When, five years ago, Hillary Clinton announced the existence of a "vast, right-wing conspiracy," conservatives responded with hoots of derision and laughter. The very idea was preposterous. Or was it? Recent developments suggest she may have been prescient.
Once a week a couple of dozen leaders of conservative groups gather at the offices of Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. Every few weeks the National Republican Congressional Committee convenes a group of senior Republican consultants and operatives, most of them veterans of many campaigns. Why else would these groups meet regularly unless it is to plot the nation's course? Picture President Bush and House Speaker Hastert chewing their finger nails in anticipation of getting their regular marching orders from the respective groups.
Sinister? Yes, but something far more sinister seems to be afoot with such groups. Sources tell this column that these conspirators have hired specialists with a secret method to seduce unwitting Democrats into doing their bidding. The objective is to scuttle Democrat efforts to win the presidential and congressional elections of 2004. Consider the evidence:
• Liberal radio. A week ago, two major Democrat campaign donors, Sheldon and Anita Drobny of Chicago, announced they were heading a group to finance a liberal radio network to checkmate the likes of Rush Limbaugh and dozens of conservatively-oriented talk shows around the country. Their group will put up $10 million to create a daily menu of 14 hours of liberal programming. They hope to hire comedian Al Franken to tickle America's funny bone with liberal wonkery dressed up as hilarity.
The Drobnys and their friends are doing this in the face of all available logic. Mario Cuomo's effort at talk radio was about as entertaining as listening to readings from the telephone book. Jim Hightower's syndicated program also flopped, despite the host's cracker-barrel, folksy manner.
Rush and all those conservative talk-show hosts don't need investors, of course, for they have sponsors who pay to advertise. Actually, Ronald Reagan began the whole conservatives-on-radio movement back in 1975 after he left the governor's office in California. For nearly five years he had a five-minute commentary program every weekday which, at its peak, was carried on 350 stations. Some say it helped build his popularity for winning the presidency in 1980.
Now if the Drobnys were following logic, they would understand that conservative radio is a response to the prevailing liberal world view of network television news, most large newspapers and the weekly news magazines. It is a bottoms-up affair, giving voice to the views of large numbers of people who believe their views are not represented by those "mainstream" media.
Liberal philosophy and the policy prescriptions that flow from it are, on the other hand, top-down in origin. Elitists, with moral certitude, pass their ideas down to the hoi polloi.
Speaking of television, MSNBC thought it would counter Fox News's hit show "The O'Reilly Factor" with a resurrection of the liberal Phil Donahue. For those who have trouble sleeping, Donahue has proved to be a cost-free substitute for Sominex.
The very terms "liberal radio" and "liberal television" are oxymorons. The only listeners and viewers will be the faithful: policy wonks, party activists and various axe-grinders.
• Campaign finance "reform." The Democrats who were railing about "getting money out of politics" got their wish. "Soft" money is out, while the limit on "hard" money contributions (direct to candidates) was increased -- after 27 years -- from $1,000 to $2,000. In the 2002 election cycle the Republicans raised $332 million in hard money to $163 million for the Democrats. This was under the old rules. The Democrats were much more dependent on soft money (raising $245.8 million to $250 million for the Republicans). Nine of the 10 largest soft money contributors gave to the Democrats. Anthony Corrado, a scholar of campaign finance, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, "The Republican Party just has a much broader base of large and small donors, and on average they give more." Harold Ickes, the Democratic operative, said, "The (Republican) spending advantage is enormous."
There is no rational explanation for Democrats in Congress to vote for a bill that has the effect of cutting off their biggest money supply. Nor, for that matter, is there one for rich Democrat donors to invest $10 million in radio programs which will attract few listeners. No, the only possible explanation is this: The vast right-wing conspiracy hired a team of hypnotists to perform their arcane ways on congressional Democrats during caucus meetings and on those rich investors at a fund-raising cocktail party for, say, Al Gore.
Once she gets wind of this fiendish, but effective, plot, Senator Hillary will no doubt introduce a bill outlawing hypnosis.