On the left, the College Democrats are treated like shit, the think tanks do approximately nothing to help their young research assistants move on to bigger things, the junior staffers on the Hill get no support and encouragement to stay involved in politics, and in general no one seems to give a damn whether or not there will be a next generation of professional progressives.
This simple point illustrates one of the major reasons why the Conservative/right-wing movement has been so succesfull in gaining ground in an increasingly modern society. While many of the major groups have strong differences of opinion and often give different issues varying amounts of importance (gay rights and fiscal responsibility are two good examples) they hold true to the old axiom, "a rising tide raises all boats."
By banding together to ensure people that fall under their broad umbrella are able to achieve positions of power, they are able to create a more favorable environment in which to push their own agenda. Their ability to brand themselves ensures greater success come election day.
Certainly the fiscaly conservative Republicans who work to preserve the environment in places like Montana and Alaksa are less concerned with the fundamentalist pro-born again lifestyle agenda in places like Texas and Alabama, but they recognize that a Republican congress is more amenable to both their positions.
This cohesiveness (shaky though it is) trumps most Democratic/liberal attempts at organization. Too often the different groups are too busy sniping at each other ot realize that they factionalism leaves plenty of room for the right to walk right on in.
This is not to say that the ability of the left to understand and appreciate the nuance and difficulty involved in creating effective policy is a bad thing, it is simply that the right has been able to paint the left and themselves with a broad brush. Their simplicity is seen as an asset, "common-man, every-day, church-goin joe six-pack type of elected official working for you and yours."
There are certainly many, many intelligent operatives on the right who know the issues inside and out, but they are able to do so and avoid the label they so often use on those on the left who publicly display their knowledge of an issue, the "wonk".
The right has been able to do what every campaign attempts to do, they were able to define the left before the left could define itself.
This may be an impossible mission. Attend any anti-war rally and inevitably 20 different groups are their pushing their message, "Free Palestine", "Leagalize It", "Hands of My Body", etc. Not that these shouldn't be events in which different groups should come together, but they should come together under one banner.
Matt's point focuses mostly on the college students and those about that age who are already involved, but they need to understand the importance of linking up under a defined message, one that states in simple terms what we are working for, not against.
The Republican Party is in full-time campaign mode, there are no non-political decisions made. Everything this administration has done in the past three years has been about politics. Everyone from the state rep to the President has a set of talking points and they go from there. Their orgnization is incredible and it has brought them success despite the obvious flaws in their policies.
Republicans: Cut taxes -> more revenue!
Reality: cut taxes + increase spending -> defecit
Solution: Blame the war, cut spending on social policies (negligible fiscal impact, but good repub politics) talk about something else, pass the buck.
We don't need to be cynical to play the game, we just have to be organized. We need to expose the shell game for what it is.
To achieve our ends we need to win back the White House, and win back the Congress.
But doing that only buys us time. We need to take back the state legislatures. The Republicans know that the national scene will change. They won big in 1994, then lost seats in 1998. They are want the school boards, the city councils and the state legislatures. In those arenas they can extend their power with an even freer hand (see the resurgence of Creationist chatter and the recent rash of redistricting).