When it’s not clogged with protestors or full of summer concertgoers, the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is often overrun by softball players. Every year, staffers from dozens of congressional offices and nonprofit organizations field teams to compete in the annual summer league. As you might expect, there are some great rivalries—it’s rumored that elected officials regularly bet on the outcome of some high profile matchups. Like the institutions they represent, the softball teams are buttressed by the influx of thousands of interns that flock to Washington every summer.
When I first arrived in Washington for my internship with a small liberal policy organization, I toyed with the idea of organizing liberal students to challenge conservative interns to a friendly pickup game. I figured that this project would be a good way to build a community of progressive interns and also to have a little fun. It never got off the ground, but I did talk with a lot of interns from across the political spectrum. Through those conversations, I learned a lot about the stark differences in how liberal and conservative organizations approach internships. In many ways, a conservative-liberal intern game would resemble the New York Yankees playing a Little League team. From resource commitment to ideological training, the right has a major advantage over the liberal left.
The financial comparison is obvious. Many liberal writers have noted the monetary advantage of the conservative movement. It’s common knowledge that dozens of well-endowed think tanks pump out policy papers, talking points, and a myriad of other resources for right-wing politicians and pundits on a daily basis. Although it may not be surprising that conservatives also spend more money on recruiting young people, I was shocked to discover the actual size of the discrepancy. Conservative organizations spend about five times as much as their left-liberal counterparts.
Conservative students are one of the most heavily subsidized interest groups on campus today. Millions of dollars are pumped into the effort to find and train the next generation of reactionary leaders. For example, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) spends more than a million dollars a year to support conservative student publications on campuses across the country. It also spends more than $40,000 per year on a fellowship program for students in Washington, D.C., and funds a so-called “Honors Program” that is a week-long lecture series for undergraduates. The ISI spends all this money planting seeds in hopes that they will bear fruit. And they do—former ISI fellows have gone on to become leaders of major policy organizations and senior advisors in several Republican administrations. Ronald Reagan’s security adviser, Richard Allen, for example, is an ISI graduate.
Heritage Foundation, one of the most influential conservative think tanks in Washington, also has a robust internsh...
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