Think tanks giv­ing up on think­ing, join shout­ing war

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - From the left Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day Milbank writes for The Washington Post. Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day


first blush, there is some­thing de­light­fully Dada about Jim DeMint be­ing named pres­i­dent of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

The se­na­tor, a tea-party hero from South Carolina, is a smart guy and a good politi­cian. But run­ning a think tank? It is the schol­arly equiv­a­lent of ap­point­ing Michael Moore to head the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, or Ted Nu­gent to the Cato In­sti­tute, or Roseanne Barr to the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, or per­haps Don­ald Trump to the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

But think about it some more and the choice of DeMint be­gins to look bril­liant. He is, ar­guably, the per­fect can­di­date to run a post-thought think tank.

There is less think­ing go­ing on in much of the Washington think-tank world th­ese days: Fol­low­ing the trend in pol­i­tics gen­er­ally, th­ese idea fac­to­ries have turned away from idea pro­duc­tion in fa­vor of pro­mot­ing well­worn pol­icy pre­scrip­tions. The task is less to come up with new so­lu­tions than to win the ar­gu­ment with ep­i­thets, la­bels and car­i­ca­tures.

The trend goes be­yond Her­itage. The Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil has joined the shift from wonks to gla­di­a­tors. The lib­eral Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress was cre­ated as a con­scious im­i­ta­tion of Her­itage — more po­lit­i­cal and ag­gres­sive, less book­ish. In­deed, re­searchers there have done ex­ten­sive op­po­si­tion re­search into ... Jim DeMint.

Now Her­itage ap­pears ready to shed that ve­neer and ded­i­cate it­self to ide­o­log­i­cal and par­ti­san war­fare. There’s no bet­ter war­rior than Jim DeMint.

Con­sider how he would en­hance Her­itage’s Mar­garet Thatcher Cen­ter for Free­dom. DeMint’s view, based on his con­sid­er­able re­search? “Free­dom is dis­solv­ing!” and “Amer­ica is tee­ter­ing to­wards tyranny!”

Ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy? DeMint likened the Chicago schools strike to Mid­dle East vi­o­lence, call­ing Chicago “a dis­tant place where thugs had put 400,000 chil­dren out in the streets.”

Health pol­icy? Try­ing to block Oba­macare, DeMint once said: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Water­loo. It will break him.”

Eco­nomic pol­icy? DeMint said of the stim­u­lus leg­is­la­tion: “It is a mug­ging. It is a fraud.”

Cap­i­tal mar­kets? The se­na­tor said of his ef­fort to block an in­crease in the debt limit: “We’re at the point where there would have to be some se­ri­ous dis­rup­tions in or­der not to raise it. I’m will­ing to do that.”

The pres­i­dency? DeMint says of

Scot Le­high

Paul Krug­man

Dana Milbank

Mau­reen Dowd Obama: “Just be­cause you are good on TV doesn’t mean you can sell so­cial­ism to free­dom-lov­ing Amer­i­cans.” He likened Obama’s prac­tices to those in Ge­orge Or­well’s “1984”: “He is pre­sent­ing a com­plete re­def­i­ni­tion of words and ideas.”

Na­tional se­cu­rity? DeMint ac­cused Obama of sid­ing with Amer­ica’s en­e­mies, say­ing “I am hope­ful that as Pres­i­dent Obama grows in of­fice, he will even­tu­ally turn away from despots like Ah­madine­jad, Chavez, Cas­tro.”

Euro­pean his­tory? DeMint opined that Amer­ica is “about where Ger­many was be­fore World War II where they be­came a so­cial democ­racy.”

Civil so­ci­ety? The law­maker says Democrats are seek­ing “a re­tread of the failed and dis­cred­ited so­cial­ist poli­cies that have been the en­emy of free­dom for cen­turies all over the world. ... The bat­tle is be­tween the Amer­i­can peo­ple and the Democrats, and I like those odds.”

Gen­der stud­ies? DeMint de­fended Todd Akin af­ter the Mis­souri Se­nate can­di­date said women’s bod­ies could avoid preg­nancy in cases of “le­git­i­mate rape.” His po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee said: “We sup­port Todd Akin and hope free­dom-lov­ing Amer­i­cans in Mis­souri and around the coun­try will join us.”

Hu­man rights? DeMint of­fered his view that if “some­one is openly ho­mo­sex­ual, they shouldn’t be teach­ing in the class­room,” and that “an un­mar­ried woman who’s sleep­ing with her boyfriend — she shouldn’t be in the class­room.”

DeMint is en­ti­tled to his views. And the peo­ple of South Carolina re­turned him to of­fice de­spite — or per­haps be­cause of — his views.

But it’s dif­fi­cult to see how th­ese views, and DeMint’s crude ex­pres­sion of them, fit with Her­itage’s mis­sion as “a re­search and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion” ded­i­cated to find­ing “so­lu­tions to con­tem­po­rary prob­lems from the ideas, prin­ci­ples and tra­di­tions that make Amer­ica great.”

Such as: keep­ing gay men and un­mar­ried women from be­ing teach­ers; throw­ing around words such as “tyranny” and “so­cial­ism”; at­tempt­ing to “break” an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and ac­cus­ing the other party of a Nazi-style “power grab.”

If DeMint is the right man to be run­ning this pres­ti­gious pol­icy shop, per­haps the res­i­dent schol­ars at Her­itage should be re­search­ing this ques­tion: Is thought dead?

Gail Collins

John Young

Leonard Pitts

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