Monday, May 15, 2017

F.H. Buckley: The Right's Think Tanks Have Stopped Thinking

The legitimacy of think tanks has eroded over the years for numerous reasons, any many continue to view think tanks with deep skepticism.

Here are some excerpts from a new piece by F.H. Buckley in the New York Post entitled "How the Right's Think Tanks Stopped Thinking," detailing some recent concerns about conservative think tanks:

You’ll find the same kind of creative destruction in the idea factories on the right, in their think tanks and little magazines. The Heritage Foundation lost its president last week, but had lost its intellectual edge years before. Its moment, and that of the other great conservative think tanks, had passed. They had had a few great ideas, back in the day — then became prisoners of their beautiful orthodoxies. But what worked in 1980 no longer worked in 2016, for they missed what had changed in the interim.
That Obama putdown of Mitt Romney could be applied to them: The 1980s were calling and wanted their policies back.
The conservative think tanks ignored this. They told us that they were conservatism’s brains. But the brains had stopped working, and they had become the movement’s stomach. They gorged on the money from conservative donors, as Jeb Bush had, with about the same political impact.
They told the donors they were scholars who would simply sit around and think conservative thoughts. But, as any scholar will tell you, it’s more enjoyable not to think at all. And so the idea factories became the front for their fund-raising operations.
Like generals fighting the last war, these think tanks failed to recognize that an entirely new set of challenges demanded an entirely new set of politics, represented by a President Trump whom they loathed. What they forgot is the Red Queen effect (from “Through the Looking Glass”): When your opponents can react to your ideas, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
Other think tanks, such as the liberal Brookings Institution, read what the conservatives had written, reacted, and became go-to places for smart ideas. The conservative think tanks didn’t return the compliment, and were left behind.

F.H. Buckley is a Foundation Professor at George Mason University's Scalia School of Law.  He is also a Senior Editor at The American Spectator and a columnist for the New York Post.