The New Republic has an interesting piece on the metamorphosis of the Heritage Foundation implemented at the instigation of a 31-year-old MBA. It’s definitely inside baseball, and several of the (unnamed) sources clearly are venting resentment at having gotten voted off the island in favor of a bright and ambitious young man who lacked any apparent long-term master plan for the organization, but did have the benefit of a wealthy sponsor. So bear that in mind: we’ve almost certainly got some sour grapes mixed in with the juice here.
Even so, one can also see how those same people would have legitimate reason to bemoan not only a particular set of policy preferences becoming crystallized into orthodoxy (even if they more or less agreed with those preferences), given that this event was the result of intellectual rigor being demoted below the simple flexing of electoral muscle (even if to no ultimate effect). After all, these policy experts who thought their jobs were to develop new ideas and educate their fellow conservatives about complex public issues repeatedly found their work squelched by minions tasked with enforcing ideological purity:
There is now a political check on all Heritage research papers to make sure they conform to the political and tactical line before they go out the door. Corrigan killed one such paper, defending the law authorizing National Security Agency practices as constitutional, only to have the Brookings Institution, a relatively liberal think tank, publish it. Corrigan also put the kibosh on several policy papers on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including one by Heritage scholar Edmund Haislmaier about what states should do on Medicare expansion. Because the official Heritage strategy was now to defund Obamacare, any paper acceding to a reality in which the law existed was verboten. The scandalous Heritage report on immigration, co-authored by a scholar who had once claimed that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than whites, was also the product of DeMint’s approach: Policy analysts were shut out of the discussion, and the paper, which was written to conform with DeMint’s anti-immigration stance, did not go through the standard vetting procedure.
Whether one identifies as conservative, liberal, libertarian, or somewhere in between, it isn’t hard to see how TNR‘s sources for the article, mostly scholars and researchers formerly engaged at Heritage, might have been legitimately frustrated with that sort of environment. The whole thing is worth a read to better-understand some of the seemingly nonsensical brinksmanship about defunding Obamacare that imperiled our national credit last year — and reviewing the resolution of that dispute from the point of view of the former Heritage staffers who sourced this story is infuriating indeed.
Burt Likko is the pseudonym of an attorney in Southern California. His interests include Constitutional law with a special interest in law relating to the concept of separation of church and state, cooking, good wine, and bad science fiction movies. Follow his sporadic Tweets at @burtlikko, and his Flipboard at Burt Likko.