Are think-tanks irrelevant? Some readers have argued that I'm wrong about the need to fund think-tanks. On the left, Ezra Klein thinks:

We've always been the smarter party . . . Polls show that our policies are favored by far more of the populace than Republican ones. Nobody could deny that Gore came off as more intelligent than Bush in the debates. The reason we are losing is not that we don't have enough ideas or enough intellectual backing, it is because we don't understand how to win outside our base. We rely on the strength of our policies but not our candidates, we know that our message is better and more nuanced and more realistic, but that's not what is required to actually win. To actually win our message has to be understood, and as such, it has to fit in the media that actually exists rather than the one we wish existed. We don't need think-tanks or policy papers or more academics to tell us what to do because they'd only enhance the intellectual side of our party, not the human side. We need a few people with common sense who will hammer out a message and ensure that it is heard.

In a related, but slightly different, criticism, Jacob Levy, at the Volokh Conspiracy, has suggested that I've "underestimate[d] the intellectual influence of academia relative to think tanks and overestimate[d] the political effectiveness of think tanks." I suppose the inference to make here is that academia has more intellectual influence than I've suggested, but that intellectual influence doesn't translate into political effectiveness. Which is essentially Klein's conclusion.

This is something I'm going to have to think about for awhile. I suppose I'm skeptical of Levy's view, and I wish I could coax him into saying more. I don't think universities have much political influence--especially when compared to major media outlets. I also think that Washington-based think-tanks and lobby groups are much better at gaining access to media, if only because they are coordinated efforts with fairly clear goals and ample means. With regard to Klein's comment, I'm unpersuaded that the left has the type of intellectual support it needs. It's one thing to have people philosophizing about egalitarian ideals, and quite another to have coherent, coordinated, and timely political platforms that are philosophically informed. I don't think Klein is right that the left is somehow "smarter" than the right. Smarter in what sense? The issue here is whether the left is giving smart people who believe in its ideals enough support to produce and publicize cohesive and politically compelling ideas. Klein is right that this is partly a matter of strategy, but a good strategy is going to need some substance.

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