Wednesday, July 30, 2014

More Revelations on Butler's Move from Heritage to Brookings

It was the think tank transition heard around the world (or at least in Washington).  The liberal Brookings Institution has poached economist Stuart Butler from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and reaction has been nonstop.

Today, Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post weighed in on the move and had some interesting commentary and revelations.  His reaction was "holy cow!" as he compared the move to something like Derek Jeter deciding to play for the Red Sox of Vladimir Putin becoming secretary general of the United Nations.

The WPost says that Brookings, whose "veneer is undeniably middle-of-the-road liberal," approached Butler last fall about taking a job at Brookings.  Here is more from WPost:
It was less disaffection with Heritage than the appeal of working with a new group of people — many longtime friends and debating partners — that caused him to accept. “There’s a logic for me to take conservative ideas to different audiences,” he said.
I suspect that there’s a bit more to his move.
Most think tanks were once idea factories. They sponsored research from which policy proposals might flow. In the supply chain of political influence, their studies became the grist for politicians’ programs. But think-tank scholars didn’t lobby or campaign. Politicians and party groups did that. There was an unspoken, if murky, division of labor. This was Butler’s world.

Samuelson goes on to bash the modern-day think tank for being too politically active, and says that think tanks are now "message merchants" that "package and merchandize agendas" for the broader public.

His ultimate fear?  That think tanks will do less thinking and more politicking and self-promotion.  Welcome to modern think tank land!