How To Be Cynical

| Fri Jun. 17, 2011 12:42 PM EDT

Politico recently reported that big conservative DC think tanks are heavy sponsors of talk radio. The Heritage Foundation sponsors Rush Limbaugh ($2 million per year) and Sean Hannity ($1.3 million per year), while FreedomWorks sponsors Glenn Beck and Americans for Prosperity sponsors Mark Levin. This might seem a little squalid, but Will Wilkinson says it's not squalid in quite the way you think:

If you want to be cynical about the way all this works, here's how to be cynical about it. Right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups constantly tell the folks on their huge direct-mail lists—older people, mostly—that America, the greatest country in the history of the multiverse, is going to hell in a hand-basket, and quick, unless! Unless you dig deep and send cheques to the Americans for a More American America Foundation or ProsperityWorks or whatever.

Then, the boards of these organisations reward their friends in management and fundraising with handsome salaries (just think what they're forgoing in the private-sector!) and spend the rest of the money on programmes that may or may not have a clear relationship to the institution's mission. Right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups are to a significant extent transmission belts conveying the cash of fearful, constitution-loving widows into the bank accounts of "movement" professionals in Washington, DC. The first-order distributive consequences of these pay-for-play radio deals has to do with which Washington institution gets to tap which audience's potential donor pool.

Will says he isn't sure if lefty think tanks work the same way, and I'm not sure either. Certainly they appeal to fear in some of the same ways (conservatives will take away your reproductive rights, conservatives want to wreck Medicare, etc.), but I don't think the appeals to inchoate fear are quite as insidious as they are on the right, and I'm also pretty sure that being part of a lefty think tank isn't quite as lucrative at it is on the right. But I could be wrong! Still, if things were really the same on the left, then CAP and EPI and other America-hating socialist idea mongers would have their own deals with Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. But they don't.

Anyway, this is your lesson for the day, I guess. Be cynical if you want, but be cynical about the right things. Noted.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.