FOUNDATIONS. Matt...

FOUNDATIONS. Matt writes that "foundations with liberalish sentiments are actually significantly wealthier than the rightwing foundations created to counter them. The difference is that the right's foundations focus on politically efficacious giving, while a huge proportion of liberalish giving is dedicated to fairly ineffective efforts at direct amelioration of problems or efforts to identify 'best practices' that go duly ignored by the political system." All true. But it's not just mistaken tactics that separate the two sides, it's identification. As Chris Hayes wrote in his excellent article of the left's funding dysfunctions: "for the progressive movement, the single largest source of funding comes from institutions that don�t consider themselves part of the movement itself. This means that organizations are caught between pursuing their political objectives and pleasing their apolitical funders." The left's foundations aren't accidentally focusing on "direct amelioration of problems" rather than political change; they've consciously made technocratic empiricism their identity and shied away from movement building. It's a "feature," not a bug.

This was driven home to me when I was talking with George Soros on the phone during the 2004 elections. When I quizzed him on the actual amounts he was donating and how committed he was to constructing a progressive infrastructure, he rapidly backed away from the claim, protesting that he possessed no interest in significantly seeding the new left. That's why I find all the hubbub about Soros' money so darkly humorous -- he'll never give enough to truly matter.

The question remains, however, why the left's billionaires form foundations that fund the expressions of their consciences, but not their movement. My theory is that the difference lies in the cultures of the left and the right. The right, as Rick Perlstein has pointed out, clings to a sense of embattled persecution, and so whatever the moneymen contribute does nothing but slightly lessen the immense odds they're up against. The left, however, tends to assume itself more inevitably successful, and so its heirs and plutocrats shy away from political actions that could be seen as overly acquisitive or aggressive. Add in the right's immense success in attacking Soros' recent donations, and potential liberal funders feel neither comfortable nor safe with putting their money in serious service of their ideology. So the cash goes into the apolitical foundations, the foundations inefficiently fund liberal ends while letting liberalism flounder, and the left's institutions and talent continue to languish for lack of funding.

--Ezra Klein

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