The greatest failure of liberals and leftists in America is their inability to understand the role of ideology in life and politics. There’s a tendency to assume, especially among those more sympathetic to labor, that everything is driven by economics, and that all ideologies come out of this, either in support of or opposition to some ruling elite. This worldview is fundamentally misguided. Thinking about “class interest” as an explanation for how people vote will only take you so far. Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, was a candy magnate and leader of the National Association of Manufacturers, but this alone fails to explain why he founded what is, frankly, the most influential far-right grouping in the country. Welch, like Barry Goldwater,William F. Buckley, Richard Nixon, and the other leading lights of movement conservatism were not motivated purely by some hindbrain desire to preserve a class position, but by a distinct and coherent ideology.

Really, look at the network set up by the right to propagate that ideology.  Young Americans for Freedom came out of the Goldwater campaign, but cross-propagated with the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (later the Intercollegiate Studies Institute) and the National Review. They were stunningly successful at strengthening and propagating their ideology. Joining with the Christian Right was a masterstroke, combining two powerful, coherent ideologies. Liberals utterly failed to adapt to this.

We need our own National Review. We need a John Birch Society, with small chapters. We need liberal book groups. We need to take the evangelical idea of “cell groups” and turn that into door knocking and letter writing and GOTV the same way we do. We need to understand that ideology matters. If our opponents have a coherent, motivating ideology and we don’t, they win by default.

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