Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2003/ 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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The painful task of think tanks — thinking | The New York Times reports that John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff, spearheads a new think tank, the Center for American Progress (CAP). Podesta calls CAP, with a 2004 budget of $10 million, "a think tank on steroids" to counterbalance conservative think tanks.

Squandering others' money remains Democrats' primo skill. They spend $10,000,000 when they already have 274 think tanks around the country? They are called Research One and doctoral program universities. Since the 1960s, 78,000 faculty members (90% to 100% of whom are Democrats) have trained 90% of all PhDs in the U.S.

Conservatives have relied on think tanks since the New Deal consumed America. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), founded in 1943, explores "limited government, private enterprise, . . . and a strong foreign policy and national defense-through scholarly research, open debate, and publications."

AEI was lonely until the 1960s when college campuses became centers for free love and hashish, and that was just the faculty. A flurry of think tanks arose following this turning point in higher education, when truth became relative. Republicans tackled the 274 publicly-subsidized liberal think tanks, aka colleges and universities, with private scholarship.

Paul Weyrich and Edwin Feulner were whippersnapper congressional aides when, frustrated with Democrats' domination of Congress, policy, taxes, and programs, they founded the Heritage Foundation to advance the principles of "free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense." Heritage explored Social Security privatization, school choice and missile defense.

Edward Crane founded the Cato Institute in 1977 for the purposes of championing "limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace." In the subscript to Cato's mission statement is the goal of fostering "entrepreneurship, the market process, and lower taxes with .. . skepticism about the benefits of . . . the welfare state."

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These ultra-right-wing wonks, generally lumped in with the black helicopter crowd, were ignored until Reagan's successes and Gingrich's revolutionary "Contract with America." The conservative think tank's moments in the spotlight have now spanned 3 decades, with many Bush II policies being pages from the think tank play books.

Conservative think tanks wield power now because their research and policy recommendations have proven correct. A strong missile defense system was critical in winning the Cold War.

School choice increases test scores, even amidst urban blight. Tax cuts fuel economic growth. It happened in 1984, 2 years after Reagan cut taxes, and it happened last week, 2 years after Mr. Bush cut taxes: the biggest GDP jump since, well, Reagan cut taxes.

Tom Daschle ballyhoos the Podesta effort as Dems' matching conservative foundations' "firepower in the media." You have to love delusional Dems. The Los Angeles Times served as opposition research team for the Gray Davis campaign in California, and the New York Times still runs stories about how Bush lost Florida, but conservatives dominate the media? Here are six acronyms for the needlessly fretting Podesta crowd: NPR, PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN, not to mention acronymic organizations that conquer sans think tanks or thinking: ACLU, NOW, ATLA (lawyers), ABA, and the AFL-CIO.

Podesta's CAP is akin to the Al Gore/Hillary Clinton idea for a liberal Rush Limbaugh.

Developing a sense of humor in a liberal for purposes of talk radio is a tall order. Thinking, not emoting, in liberals is also a tough row to hoe.

Pumping neurons means abandoning spin and platitudes and zeroing in on principles. The CAP mission statement does not bode well. Conservative think tanks summarize their missions and views in 25 words or less. Podesta's crowd uses 362 convoluted words, to wit, "Every day we challenge conservative thinking that undermines the bedrock American values of liberty, community and shared responsibility." Those are not the bedrock values most Americans would name first, unless they are in a commune.

Podesta has an explanation, "The question I'm asked most often is, When are we getting our eight words? Conservatives have their eight words in a bumper sticker, 'Less government.

Lower taxes, Less welfare. . . . Well, it's harder for us, because we believe in a lot more things." Ah, conservatives are simpletons! Mr. Podesta has ten million bucks per year to call conservatives names. One of CAP's scholars, Eric Alterman, a former Mother Jones columnist and author of What Liberal Media?, is perfect for the job.

"The other side consists of nincompoops," is not exactly good think tank strategy. Mr. Podesta must show conservative think tanks' research is wrong, something unlikely to happen because conservative policies such as school choice, welfare reform, and tax cuts work. Conservatives policies replace failed liberal policies based on "shared responsibility."

Conservatives have been thinking since The Federalist Papers. They've been researching since the 1940s. Dems started thinking about thinking after the 2002 election losses. The intellectual pail is not filled by spin or name-calling. Mr. Podesta should pare down that mission statement. A roomful of liberals cutting back on rhetoric? What an uphill battle to THINK!

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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