Friday, May 28, 2010

It Pays to Be a Progressive
Gail Heriot

I received the following Request for Proposals a few days ago.  I don’t find it particularly troubling that there are academics like Dreier and Lichtenstein, backed by an organization out there somewhere, who want to pay $1000 per essay to progressive academics willing to fight “the battle with conservative ideas.”  If that's what they want to do, fine.  Go at it. And may the best ideas win.  What I found unusual is the lack of embarrassment about the request.  I’ve never seen a Request for Proposals from a conservative organization (much less from actual conservative academics) offering money for a particular viewpoint. Conservative organizations tend to assume (perhaps wrongly) that academics have more integrity that. If there is anything analogous among conservative academics I don't think it would use in-your-face rhetoric about "the battle with conservative ideas" or the need to "undermine the credibility" of conservatives.  That would be considered ... well ... gauche.

The authors of this letter urged recipients to forward this to others.  I suppose that says something about their view of the likelihood that their message would fall into unsympathetic hands.   I thought I would post it for those of you who might not realize that this is where progressive policy briefs come from .... Some of them anyway.

"Cry Wolf Request for Proposals - Please Forward.


         We are looking for faculty and graduate students (in history, sociology, economics, political science, planning, public health, and public policy) interested in writing short (2000 word) policy briefs for which we can pay $1,000.  For specifics, read on...

       We are writing to ask for your help in an important project in the battle with conservative ideas. Today, as in the past, the fight to transform American politics and policy takes place on a battlefield in which ideas, narratives, and the construction of a politically driven conventional wisdom constitutes a set of highly potent weapons. Too often conservatives in the Congress and the media have captured the rhetorical high ground by asserting that virtually any substantial, progressive change in public policy, especially that involving taxes on the wealthy or regulation of business, will kill jobs, generate a stifling government bureaucracy, or curtail economic growth.

            But history shows that in almost every instance the opponents of needed social and economic change are “crying wolf.”  We therefore need to construct a counter narrative that demonstrates the falsity or exaggeration of such claims so that the first reaction of millions of people, as well as opinion leaders, will be “There they go again!” Such a refrain will undermine the credibility and arguments of the organizations and individuals who use such dire social and economic prognostications to thwart progressive reform.

            To give substance and scholarly integrity to this “crying wolf” argument, we are calling upon historians and social scientists, in training or well established, to use their research skills to identify instances, in recent years as well as in the more distant pass, in which the “crying wolf” scare was put forward by industry executives, conservative politicians, and right-wing pundits before the passage of legislation or the promulgation of regulations that have become hallmarks of popular and progressive statecraft. On each issue we seek to document three things: First, historical examples and quotes drawn from speeches, legislative testimony, newspaper and other media opinion pieces, think-tank reports, or political platforms which claim that a proposed policy or regulation would generate a set of negative consequences; second, a discussion of how these crying-wolf claims impacted the new laws or regulations as they were passed into law; and third, a well-documented analysis of the extent to which conservative and special interest fears were or were not realized during the years and decades after the new laws or regulations went into effect.

            This work is sponsored by the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives and funded by a grant from the Public Welfare Foundation.  Donald Cohen of CPI, Peter Dreier of Occidental College, and Nelson Lichtenstein of UC Santa Barbara constitute the ad hoc committee now administrating this initiative.

            Based on some of the policy areas listed below, we solicit one page proposals for the kind of short studies outlined above. If we think the proposal promising, we will then ask the applicant to develop a larger policy brief, perhaps 2,000 words in length. It should be well documented and scrupulously accurate. We will pay $1,000 for each brief that meets these standards. We hope that many of these become the basis for opinion pieces designed to run in the mainstream media, on line, on the air, or in the press.

            We will be focusing on the following policy areas.
1.       Taxes and public budgets
2.       Labor market standards
3.       Food, tobacco and drug health and safety
4.       Environmental protection: air, water, toxics, etc
5.       Workplace safety
6.       Financial regulation
7.       Consumer product safety
8.       Local issues (i.e. inclusionary housing, building code standards, etc.)

We will be looking for the following things in each case study/policy brief:
1.      Specific Laws or Regulations within the policy area
2.      Why the law or regulation was needed: citations of studies, articles that demonstrated need, etc.
3.      Principle opponent interest groups
4.      The quotes and claims: Reports, correspondence and/or public testimony of interest groups that lobbied against passage and implementation of laws and regulations. [While some quotes will certainly be included in the policy brief, we would like all quotes that are found to be included in appendices]
5.      Principle proponent groups (for research and help)
6.      Any existing retrospective qualitative and quantitative costs and benefits of laws
7.      Major books, articles, sources on the history and impact of legislation/regulation.

Proposals should be sent to Donald Cohen<>.

Please feel free to forward this RFP and/or to send ideas, references and proposals.


Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, Occidental College.

Donald Cohen, Executive Director, Center on Policy Initiatives

Nelson Lichtenstein,Professor of History at UC Santa Barbara and Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy

Cry Wolf Project Coordinators

Project Advisory Board
Robert Kuttner, Co-founder & Co-editor, American Prospect
Gerald Markowitz, PhD, John Jay College, CUNY
David Rosner, PhD; Co-Director, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health
Alice O’Connor, PhD, UC Santa Barbara
Janice Fine, PhD, Rutgers University
Andrea M. Hricko, MPH; Southern CA Environmental Health Sciences Center
Jennifer Klein PhD, Yale University
Meg Jacobs PhD, MIT
William Forbath JD, PhD, University of Texas Law School
Tom Sugrue PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Lizabeth Cohen PhD, Harvard University"

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A bit late with this one, and I comment not on the significance of solicitation of anti-conservative writing, but on one particular line of attack.

Apropos that "crying wolf" theme, they are calling for research into how conservative warnings of the long-term results of leftist maneuvers have not panned out in the long run. Significantly, gun-grabbing has been dropped from the list of "policy areas" to which this tactic is to be appied. That in itself is good news, confirming the left's admission that they have been well and truly beaten on this issue.

Nevertheless, allow me to submit ssome brief analysis of why the "crying wolf" approach would produce false results when applied to the RKBA area, in order to illustrate the speciousness of that line of reasoning in general.

Here we need only consider the so-called "Assault" "Weapons" "Ban." That measure had almost no effect, good or bad, on either crime or on lawful self-defense. Why? Although the gun-rights team could not stop the idea altogether, the pathetically weak version which finally did make it into law was so thoroughly emasculated as to be nearly meaningless.

To begin with, nothing was really "banned." For a time, until the Sun set of the law, new guns having more than a couple of disfavored features could not be made or sold. Those made before the law--the "pre-ban" models--could be, and were, traded as before. (At a premium, BTW.) Newly manufactured military-pattern semi-automatic rifles were still made and sold with a few cosmetic modifications.

I was deeply into the gun culture during the relevant time, including service rifle competition, and I well remember how the "ban" changed almost nothing. While it was in effect, no one who wanted an M16 or M14 clone. of for that matter an AK or even RPK copy, did without one. The only important effects were political: our side energized, the other crowd discredited to the extent that the gun-grabbers don't even try any longer. Even BJ Clinton recognized the price his side paid for the AWB fiasco.

Why do I bring this up? Not for old gun-guy triumphalism, (well, not just for that) but to lay out a paradigm for effective reaction. This paradigm illustrates the weakness of the "crying wolf" attack on conservative tactics. Had the gun-grabbers gotten what they wanted, the wolf really would have been at the door and the slope really would have been slippery, but they didn't get what they wanted, they got what we let them have. It had been one of the slickest damned things in American political history.

As Our Lord used to say, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Apply the tactics of effective, creative reaction to other realms, perhaps, to "health" care" "reform." It is not crying wolf when we stand athwart some leftist juggernaut and, by skill and determination, turn it aside from utter destruction of our way of life. Let us remember how the system is supposed to work, or to not work. Our Constitution is set up to make "change" almost impossible, that being the point of all those chacks and balances and separations ond sovereigns.

So it is that we "cry wolf" regularly, and the cries are heeded, and the wolves are turned away.

Posted by: Lou Gots | Jun 2, 2010 9:46:41 AM