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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/12/11

The Market for Progressive Groups and Websites

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Recent news items raise questions about the viability of progressive media and advocacy groups.

House Republicans' efforts to defund NPR and CPB threaten the Left's ability to get its message out.

Progressive Democrats of America plans to build a community communication website for progressives.

The sale of HuffPost to AOL raises questions about corporate ownership of progressive infrastructure.

OpenLeft has closed down, due to lack of financial support.

So I ask:

How can the left build an effective media and political infrastructure outside the market system?

Progressives believe that markets are not the best and only way to provide services.  Markets should be regulated and limited, and the People should join together, both nationally and locally, to cooperate on shared initiatives funded via taxation. Progressives believe that government can provide certain goods and services more efficiently and more equitably than can the private market system. Hence, progressives support public health care, public education, public pensions (Social Security), public transportation, public news media, and an ample safety net for the elderly, the poor, and the sick.

Government is the ultimate form of cooperative endeavor. But political parties and advocacy groups and blogs and even unions and corporations use cooperation to further shared goals.

But it's rather ironic: despite progressives' ambivalence towards markets, and despite their support of cooperation, there's an intense competitive market for progressive groups and websites. Progressive groups and websites compete for market share, struggling to gain funding, viewership, and support.

In contrast, the Right seems more united and better at cooperating. Perhaps that's because they share an immediate economic interest in avoiding taxes and regulation.

Can progressives and other leftists agree to support a common lefty advocacy group or political party? Or is progressivism doomed by the competitive conflict of egos and interests? In other words, will market competition doom progressives to powerlessness?

Ideally, the government, or at least, say, the Democratic Party, would represent the People's interests and would advocate progressive ideas. Since that's not the case, there's a market for progressive groups and websites. (Jim Dean of Democracy for America once made a similar point.) In fact, there are hundreds of national progressive groups: MoveOn, Common Cause, PDA, Bold Progressives, DFA, anti-war groups, health care groups, media reform groups, civil rights groups, election reform groups, environmental groups, women's rights groups, gun control groups, ... the list goes on and on.  The Nation and other lefty magazines have blogs and social networks. I can't keep track of all the emails in my inbox from lefty groups soliciting funds and signatures.

I sometimes wonder if the Left would be better off if all these lefty advocacy groups would dissolve and if all the activists would instead devote their energies to taking over the Democratic Party and pushing it leftwards -- the way religious conservatives and Tea Party activists took over the Republican Party and pushed it to the right.

But the Democratic Party is so compromised by "corporate interests" that many progressives feel that it's beyond redemption. Hence the proliferation of lefty advocacy groups.

These various groups compete for market share. To some extent this is natural and healthy. Even in a progressive society, you still want the skilled and effective people to lead. And you want to guard against concentration of power in unresponsive and unrepresentative groups and individuals. So you want a meritocracy and a democracy: a market system of ideas and people and services that compete for democratic support. And that's what progressive groups provide: a service. If you support us and donate money to us, we'll represent your interests: the progressive ideals you hold dear.

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Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, activist, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See and for my (more...)

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