DeMint's Heritage Foundation Should Focus on Ideas, Not Politics
Senator Jim DeMint's selection to replace Ed Feulner as head of the Heritage Foundation has initiated a lively discussion about what this means for Heritage, and for conservative think tanks as a whole.
As someone who has expressed concerns about the politicization of think tanks, I am generally wary of elected politicians serving as think tank presidents, as I fear that politicians will likely accelerate the recent march towards more partisan research institutions such as Heritage on the right and the Center for American Progress on the left. It seems clear that Senator DeMint is aware of this critique, as his first statement on the matter emphasized the need to ”protect the integrity of Heritage’s research and not politicize the policy component." DeMint further noted that "Heritage is not just another grassroots political group.”
It's a good sign that DeMint recognizes that his challenge will be to make sure that Heritage's focus remains on ideas, not on party politics.There are plenty of other organizations that do campaigning. Heritage and the other conservative think tanks need to come up with compelling and effective policy initiatives that policy makers can use if they so wish, but which are not developed -- or shunted aside -- solely for the reason that they may advantage one party and/or disadvantage the other.
Heritage recognized that it had a problem in this regard when it created a Center for Policy Innovation headed by the estimable policy expert Stuart Butler to serve as its own in-house think tank -- a think tank within a think tank, if you will. If he is to be successful, DeMint should focus on building an organization that is itself primarily an idea generator, rather than one that requires its own internal idea shop.