Rebuild the Right -- the Right Way

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.

Your rating: None


Great post Tim.  Dead on.

Great post Tim.  Dead on.

Scary stuff, kids


I liked your post until I read about "pushing the idea of a revamped employer-based health system as the alternative to Obamacare." This sounds like the competition in social engineering our Republicans love to engage in and is the very centerpiece example of a movement conservative moment at its worst.

Jon's proposed reset button pushing is scary enough without Heritage trying to win the Democrats' National Healthcare Redesign contest.

- JR /

What is "The cause"?

Tim says: "...but I love the outside the box thinking when and if it advances the cause."

What is this cause that we're all agreeing on? Just want to make sure I'm up to date because it feels there are a lot of assumptions being made here.


The Cause

Good point. If I have to define the cause I would do so broadly as many conservatives have before: Policy that advances individual freedom, promotes limited government, provides for a vigorous defense, respects traditional American values and nourishes civil society.


The cause of Libertarianism, in other words?


You make a lot of good points that I think we need to hash out further, and I'm sure I would learn a lot.   I suspect a substantial portion of our disagreement is semantic.  We probably mean different things by "ideas", "personnel" and "reset" (and I didn't argue that Heritage lacked ideas; just that the idea apparatus was ineffectual - a point I'd think you agree with after the last 8 years).

I don't advocate "revolution" on the Right, but I do think we need to fundamentally re-think a lot of what we're doing.  That's why I think we need more competition.  It will make us all healthier, and eliminate some of the cobwebs that we - all of us, whether individuals, advocacy or political orgs, Party apparatus, think tanks or other elements - have grown accustomed to, even rationalized as necessary.

I'm reminded of something Russel Kirk once said.

Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons,.. just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new.

Yes, don't do away with the traditional infrastructure.  That would be ridiculous.  But resistance to revolution should not be resistance to evolution.  We're all quite familiar with regulatory capture; we face the same problem from movement capture.

I look forward to discussing this more with you.  It's important.

As Goes HF, so goes the Conservative Movement...

...And so how's that conservative movement been going lately?  

"Conservatives build on the past by identifying what has worked and discarding what has not."

What past? 1 year ago? 5 years? 50 years?  Meanwhile the average Middle American sits helplessly watching as we lose our National identity as a result of globalism/internationalism.  And HF continues to gaze right at the tragedy that is in the making but they choose to remain in denial about its existence.  As do 99% in the GOP Hierarchy.  The problem w/HF is that they are attached at the hip w/the Status Quo.  They're just too darned comfy.  There's a battle raging for the heart/ soul of our party and Nation but HF, as Henke said, just wants to publish another white paper.   DD

Both Jon AND Tim are right

Jon says: the conservative movement is the personnel of the Republican Party

Tim says we are: painfully aware of some of 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.

If the staffers and even the elected Rep politicians are NOT conservatives, whose fault is it? The movement's fault.  And it's the fault of the criteria so many in the movement use to judge conservatives.

They judge what folks say much more than what they do. This is the mistake. We must judge much more based on what elected folk do, and the likely alternatives, and rather less based on what they say.


On think tanks, there's often a lot of ideas. But not so many good ways to convert a good idea into a policy. 

Bad tactics can make even the best strategy lose.  Implementation is so crucial (Rep failure to implement conservative desired smaller gov't is the main reason for losing)

There is certainly something a bit old and fuddy duddy about Ed Feulner and Heritage, as well as AEI, tho less so about Cato.  But Cato had the least influence on Bush, I think.

I suggest that any and all think tanks that have influence on actual politician policies get stuck having to do a bit, if not a huge amount, of sucking up to the politcially powerful. 

The politically powerful will want to use the popular conservative rhetoric to, usually, solve some problem with greater gov't.

Social conservatives who support 'family values' talkers that turn around looking for bathroom sex or sexy text mailing are also a double problem.

Finally, what are core values? core principles of limited government and individual liberty.

Most folks are ignoring that along with liberty comes duty to be individually responsible.

At least I am, anyway.  Many

At least I am, anyway.  Many of us realize that blatant cronyism and secrecy created a massive failure out of a presidencydiscount tiffany jewelry