Paul Abrams picked up on Gary Trudeau’s clever verbiage in his Doonesbury cartoon:
Discussing the Bush Library's unprecedented budget, one Doonesbury character suggests that it will also be a "think tank", to which others respond that it will be a "belief tank", defined as a think-tank-without-the-doubt.
Goebbels' observation about the power of the "big lie" can, with modern technology, now trickle down even to small lies.
For 30 years the radical rightwing has funded its own institutions, such as Heritage Foundation, supposedly to "investigate" social and political issues and to publish the results of those "investigations". They rigorously screen the views of potential hires to ensure they are ideologically pure (to be an intern at the Heritage Foundation, students had to pass a litmus test to ensure not a whisper of free thinking remained), and their results, curiously, always seem to support the economic interests of their funders.
Between $300 and $400 MILLION per YEAR is spent on these radical rightwing institutions. Their corporate sponsors are accustomed to getting returns-on-investment ("ROI" in the biz), and cutting funding from operations that do not produce good ROI.
Belief tanks deliver for them. Starting with a pre-ordained conclusion, the "investigation" focuses on finding those facts that can be woven into a supporting fabric. Contrary facts are ignored; if they are too powerful to be ignored, the integrity of their sources are impugned.
Abrams advocates use of a sound marketing principle – repetition through multiple channels – to take advantage of this brilliant neologism:
Frank Luntz, the rightwing linguistic guru, taught them the words to use to demean facts so that they were, at best, on a par with belief, but his main lesson was: language counts. I am no longer going to refer to groups like the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Discovery Institute, Americans United for Life, as think tanks, but rather as "belief tanks".
Will you join me?
How about using the netroots, and the blogging community, to spread Gary Trudeau's brilliant insight? In my writings, I will refer to such institutions, and the people from them, like this: "John Smith, from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Belief Tank, said....". And, how about training those who appear in the MSM alongside people from the Belief Tanks to call out their institutions as "Belief Tanks", and to do so over-and-over-and-over-and-over again, so it becomes part of the background?
This is the kind of coordinated messaging action that the Commonweal Institute has been advocating for years. It can start with the netroots, but should be spread widely. Whom else do you know who might want to refer to “belief tanks”, if they only knew that phrase? Well, you can tell them, and get them repeating it, too – belief tank, belief tank, belief tank….