- If politics is a sausage-factory, then think tanks are the grinder. In a city starved for glamour there may be no less glamorous job. The best ones function as hives of bright minds, relied on by political leaders to deliver the research, drafting, advocacy, and analysis on which successful legislation is constructed.
- Go the 1:12 mark in that famous Schoolhouse Rock video posted here. That’s the point in the process in which think tanks have perhaps their most important role. Armed with what seems like a great idea – school buses should stop at railroad crossings – it is time for our noble representative to draft a bill. It sounds easy. It is not.
- In short, to draft legislation that will successfully navigate its way toward adoption and also be effective on the ground, more often than not you need help from smart, savvy people who share your interest in the outcome. That leaves Congressmen to rely on think tanks, interest groups, or to an increasing extent, industry lobbyists. As Republican think tanks become more intensely ideological, bent on orthodoxy in nearly every case regardless how absurd the result, representatives are forced to lean more and more on lobbyists for advice and research.
- One can still occasionally glimpse flashes of insight from mainstream Republican think tanks, but on the whole they remain loyal to dogma over discovery. What happened to David Frum and Bruce Bartlett when they expressed independent insights remains a warning to anyone who might step out of line. The best advice a Republican policy maker can get from a mainstream think tank today would come from the American Enterprise Institute.
- No “think tank” is worthy of the name if it is blocked by political considerations from even considering vital, empirically-proven realities. Having an ideological focus is often central to a think tank’s mission. However, if that ideology focus fails to yield to discoveries, then the organization becomes a source of dangerous distortions.
Chris Ladd is a Republican precinct committeeman who also works in the software industry.