Martin Wooster in Philanthropy kicks sand in the eyes of Ford and other liberal foundations. He attacks them for lack of diversity ("Its rare to find a political conservative, a devout Jew, or an evangelical Christian among the leaders of large foundations.") And, he accuses them of lacking ideas. ("Its been decades, for example, since the president of a major foundation has written an article or given a speech of large national importance.") A take from Philanthropica here.
I met Martin on Lenore Ealy's The Philanthropic Enterprise mailing list, and discussed with him his attack on Rebecca Rimmel of Pew, over her funding of campaign finance reform. Bill Schambra of Hudson, who must get the same Fax from Headquarters piled on, adding that Rimmel should get herself a helmet since philanthropic politics is a contact sport. David Horowitz carried a similar message, like Fido fetching a bone. I would guess that the message machine has been ginned up to begin attacking liberal foundations on as many fronts as possible. For the right to attack liberal foundations for lacking diversity of message or ideas is droll. Certainly both pot and kettle could call the other black and not be wrong. How many Maxists at AEI? How many Greens at Heritage? American Indians?
Still, ideas, as the right says, matter. The telling point that Wooster makes is one you can also read in Peter Karoff, though he writes in sorrow. The large foundations have become caught up in metrics and do-able projects, as if they were middle managers. The larger overarching vision of the '60s has dissipated and nothing has taken its place. In more than one way, the large liberalish foundations are living on inherited intellectual capital. ("How much of the foundation world is worth saving?" Peter asks in pdf.) Can that closed world become more visionary, more willing to express outrage, more transparent and more open? Let alone more strategic and effective. Can funders of the left or middle collaborate to some larger purpose, as have those on the right? Can those with wealth, or who control wealth, and who have an image of an egalitarian society reach out and galvanize the many? Or will they work at the margins, cleaning up a few of the toxic messes made by business, sanctimony, and jingoism as usual?
It is time that liberal foundations acknowledged that they do have ideals and that those ideals are contested. They are not dispassionate administrators of the public good. All ideals are on the threshing floor of history, on the killing floor. Let them tell us, to cite Peter Karoff's question, what is "The World We Want"? Tell us what they will do with their money and what we can do as citizens to preserve democracy in this cruel and grasping era of Wealth Bondage. Let them articulate an ideal that we might kindle to, and rally in the public square. It is time that moderation and triangulation and rising above the fray, coupled with ameliorative initiatives, and couched in the prissy, preppy good manners of Dick Minim (sorry Dick, you are still my friend, don't whinge), were abandoned by the liberal foundations in favor of head on collision on behalf of democracy and open society. Hard heads for hard times. Moderation will grow from the bruises as it always has from civic broils. Let us be moderate when we win, and mix justice with mercy. Up to a point, but Horowitz has to go. Wooster can stay. He is harmless.