What Have I Been Telling You?

From Notion Building in today’s NY Times Magazine, about “think tanks”:

Weyrich was 31 when he and Edwin Feulner, then serving as disgruntled aides in a Congress dominated by Democrats, founded the Heritage Foundation in 1973 with early donations from a handful of wealthy families with names like Coors and Scaife. Determined to foster conservative scholarship and get it into the hands of like-minded policy makers, Weyrich and his compatriots were driven by a single, overarching conviction that grew out of the Goldwater campaign in 1964: government needed to be stingier at home and tougher abroad.

Weyrich and Feulner were not interested in securing immediate victories for a Republican Party that seemed to have, at that time, almost no hope of controlling Congress. In fact, many of the ideas they would ultimately champion — Social Security privatization, school choice, missile defense — began well outside their party’s mainstream. They were insurgents, and they set about staging an ideological takeover of the party, a process that came to fruition sooner than they might have hoped when Ronald Reagan, a fellow outsider, was elected president in 1980.

Today the Heritage Foundation, with an annual budget of roughly $30 million, is like a university unto itself. Its eight-story building houses some 180 employees, and it just completed an addition that has, among other amenities, state-of-the-art teleconferencing, apartments for about 60 interns and a fully wired 250-seat auditorium with its own greenroom. The foundation’s in-house scholars are a constant presence on radio and cable TV. (Laura Ingraham, with one of the nation’s largest radio followings, broadcasts from a Heritage studio.)

In all, according to a study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Heritage and other conservative think tanks — the best known being the libertarian Cato Institute and the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute — spent an estimated $1 billion promoting conservative ideas in the 1990’s. From their ranks sprang some credible academics whose think-tank writings spawned powerful careers, including Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former U.N. ambassador, and Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court associate justice. There also came a flood of conservative theorists — like Charles Murray, whose book ”The Bell Curve” attacked assumptions about racial equality, and John Lott, who proposed that we would be safer if everyone carried a gun — whose arguments, however dubious, bled indelibly into the public debate.

. . .

The leading candidates spend their time debating questions that were put on the agenda by Republican think tanks, like tax cuts and pre-emptive first strikes, while proposing programmatic variations on old ideas, like universal health coverage and national service — worthy notions, certainly, but no worthier than they were when Clinton put them forward 12 years ago. “

I cover this in my recent report, The Attack on Trial Lawyers and Tort Law (PDF file). This report talks about the link between the “tort reform” movement and the Right, talks about the Right and their funding, their communications infrastructure, and how they use it.