Promoted. Debate is good. -Patrick
Last week, my friend Jon Henke wrote a post criticizing Heritage President Ed Feulner and more broadly the entire conservative movement (full disclosure: Dr. Feulner is my boss, but in this post I write only for myself and am representing my own views) .
As you might have guessed, I have to take issue with Jon. While he makes some valid points (as always), I still think he goes too far on a couple.
First, Jon argues that the personnel of the Republican Party apparatus is composed of movement conservatives. As someone who spent a good deal of time working in the Senate, I am surprised that he would make that argument.
I think Jon and I are both painfully aware of some the types of staffers who have clawed their way to the top throughout the beltway-Party infrastructure. In many instances, these are people who have openly disdained us and our ideas. Far too many of them desperately cling to power for power’s sake. And far too many of them wouldn’t know a great, principled policy idea if it smacked them in the face.
To say that the conservative movement should bear responsibility in that arena is something I vehemently disagree with. I mean heck, as a staffer for Jim DeMint over the better part of the last two years, I saw first hand how the good Senator repeatedly went toe to toe with GOP establishment and received nothing but scorn for it – from staffers and senators alike.
And for Heritage’s part, they have been in the battle every step of the way. But frankly, since Heritage got banned from then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s office back in 2003 over our opposition to the prescription drug bill, it has been an adversarial relationship most of the way. And that is as it should be given the makeup of the Party right now.
This adversarial relationship has continued to manifest itself over the years. Whether it be on immigration reform, Harriet Miers, No Child Left Behind or Bridges to Nowhere, Heritage and the broader movement have stood opposed to the powers that be – both elected and unelected – in the Republican Party.
That leads to my second gripe. Jon says we need to push the reset button on ideas. Look, I am somewhat susceptible to this argument. I liked parts of David Frum’s book Comeback, I read Brooks regularly and can even stomach some Douthat on occasion. I certainly don’t agree with all that these guys are pushing, but I love the outside the box thinking when and if it advances the cause. But it is, in my opinion, unfair to write a post that portrays Ed Feulner and the Heritage Foundation as a group lacking ideas.
Stuart Butler, Heritage’s Domestic Policy VP, has been the national leader in pushing the idea of a revamped employer-based health system as the alternative to Obamacare as well as a major reform of the tax treatment of health care – a proposal that would achieve equity while empowering those without employer coverage. Who knows? Heritage’s persistence may even yield successes under our new liberal overlords. The rest of our health care team have been effective as well in pushing “transformational” ideas as evidenced by nearly all the major candidates adopting some form of our proposal.
Or take entitlements. Heritage convinced the top people at left-leaning Brookings and Urban Institute to seriously address this issue. It was Heritage who argued for a transformation in the budget process to “end entitlements as we know them” by putting Medicare, Medicaid, etc. on to the same budget basis as defense.
These are ideas that are, as Jon says, “transformational” and they would be enormously beneficial to the country if acted upon.
There is plenty more.
The problem has not been within the idea incubators, it has been with the politicians who either cannot explain their position, or frankly don’t have the heart and the passion to advance the idea. We make ideas, we don’t coach politicians. Not in our job description.
Finally, Jon ends with a call to “reset the movement” and develop a new guard to “compete” with the old guard. We are conservatives, not revolutionaries. We do not reset. Conservatives build on the past by identifying what has worked and discarding what has not. We stand on the shoulders of giants and we yes, we must train up the next generation. Edmund Burke said the true mark of a statesman is the disposition to preserve and the ability to improve. I bet we both agree that should be our model.