I meant to post this article when it first appeared, but it got lost in my inbox.
It is a very important read. I worked for the Brookings Institution for two years in the mid-1990s, after working in the first Bush administration. I got to know most of the D.C. think tanks. They have a huge influence on federal policy, because they put on dog-and-pony shows with experts, and Congressional aides pay attention to their reports, studies, and conferences.
The original idea of the think tank, as Judis explains, is that it would be free of partisan influence. Ha!
How times change!
The “think tanks” of D.C. today are influenced by partisanship and by corporate money.
This was brought out into the open when the New America Foundation fired Barry Lynn and his “Open Markets” project. His criticism of the mega-tech monopolies hit too close to home, inasmuch as Eric Schmidt of Google is one of New America’s biggest funders. Apparently Lynn could not provide assurances that he would not embarrass Google, and he was dismissed. (I was on the board of the New America Foundation. I was outspoken, as is my way. I was asked to leave the board. As I have said before, I have been kicked out of some of the finest organizations in D.C. and elsewhere.)
In fact, one can connect the events at New America to the transformation of American think tanks over the past century. The term “think tank” didn’t appear until the Kennedy administration, which relied heavily on Rand Corporation research, but these policy groups and research institutes date from 1916, when philanthropist Robert Brookings established the Institute for Government Research, which later became known as the Brookings Institution. Robert Brookings was one of a group of very wealthy businessmen who had become convinced that through the application of social science, government policies could be devised that would stem the rising conflict between the classes and parties and also achieve world peace. They were Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson progressives in the broadest sense of the term.
Brookings wanted a research institute that was “free from any political or pecuniary interest.” The scholars didn’t raise their own money, but were employed like university faculty. In founding the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Andrew Carnegie went farther: In 1910, he endowed the new institution with bonds that he hoped would allow it to forego fundraising entirely. Other groups that began during those first decades included the Council on Foreign Relations, the Twentieth Century Fund (now the Century Foundation), the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Committee for Economic Development.
The groups attained a reputation for intellectual independence. When coal company officials complained in 1933 to Brookings’ first president, classical economist Robert Moulton, about a study recommending their nationalization, Moulton responded, “We are concerned only in finding out what will promote the general welfare.” That reputation lasted into the 1960s, when, under John F. Kennedy, think tanks were conspicuously welcomed in the policy debate. But Robert Brookings’s early model of political disinterestedness and scientific objectivity began to erode soon afterward.
Three developments contributed to this change: Beginning in the 1940s, and in earnest in the early 1970s, conservative Republicans and business groups established think tanks and policy groups that had a specific economic and/or factional purpose. Businessmen dissatisfied with the New Deal created the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in 1943. In 1964, it served as the policy arm of Barry Goldwater’s right-wing campaign for president, and in the ‘70s became the preferred think tank of the Fortune 500 and of center-right Republicans, even when, for appearance’s sake, AEI kept around a few liberal researchers.
The Heritage Institution was founded in 1973 as a sophisticated business lobby (its first president came from the National Association of Manufacturers) that, unlike the more scholarly AEI, actively worked on Capitol Hill to develop legislation. It became a key player in the growth of Republican conservatism. Other groups included the American Council for Capital Formation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and later “action tanks” like Citizens for a Sound Economy and its successors FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.
Together, these business and conservative Republican groups attempted to take advantage of the reputation created by the older think tanks: They demanded attention for their “experts” in the media—on op-ed pages and, later, TV news shows—but they were in fact the kind of political organization or business lobbies that Robert Brookings and Andrew Carnegie had wanted to avoid at all costs. These groups’ scholarly output, particularly from a group like Heritage, was nugatory. They debased the coinage of the older thinking. And their model of partisan intervention and policy briefs spread leftward to groups like the Center for American Progress, which is something of a Democratic version of the Heritage Foundation.
My experience at Brookings in the mid-1990s was wonderful. I loved working there. The scholars were real scholars, and there was no partisan bias. Many or most of the scholars were tasked with raising their own funding, despite the hefty endowment at Brookings. I found myself constantly in a learning mode as a Senior Fellow because I was able to attend daily seminars about every sort of domestic and foreign issue. It was like being in college without any students. I started an annual conference of education issue, and while I was a conservative (at the time), I also included people from different camps and different parties to talk about every issue.
After I returned to New York City in 1995, I continued to manage the annual conferences for another decade. Tom Loveless picked up the conferences for a while after 2005, then they disappeared as he preferred to do his own research.
Then came my infamous firing in 2012. After the 2008 election, Brookings brought in the George W. Bush education research director, Grover Whitehurst. He was an advisor to Romney in 2012. I wrote an article slamming Romney on education in 2012 and that same day received an email from Whitehurst telling me that I was terminated as of that date as a Senior Fellow (unpaid) at Brookings. The reason: I was “inactive.” That was funny, because my most recent book was a national best seller.
It is hard to think of a “think tank” in D.C. that is truly nonpartisan and independent. They depend too much on corporate funding. They are over-identified with political parties. Every one of them should bear a warning.
How often have you read that the Center for American Progress is “left” or is the Democratic equivalent of the Heritage Foundation? Judis says that in this article. Yet we know that CAP is crazy for charter schools and has a hard time distinguishing its education values from those of Betsy DeVos. Well, at least they don’t support vouchers! But they use many of the same talking points.
The closest think tank to the original Democratic party of labor, minorities, poor and working people is the Economic Policy Institute.
The rest of the party has simply blown off the base of the party and looks to Wall Street and the billionaires to fill their coffers, then wonders where the base went and why they have lost so many state elections over the past decade.
from sarah http://ift.tt/2yAAwCR