Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture since 1945

Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture since 1945

Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture since 1945

Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture since 1945

Synopsis

From the middle of the twentieth century, think tanks have played an indelible role in the rise of American conservatism. Positioning themselves against the alleged liberal bias of the media, academia, and the federal bureaucracy, conservative think tanks gained the attention of politicians and the public alike and were instrumental in promulgating conservative ideas. Yet, in spite of the formative influence these institutions have had on the media and public opinion, little has been written about their history. Here, Jason Stahl offers the first sustained investigation of the rise and historical development of the conservative think tank as a source of political and cultural power in the United States.



What we now know as conservative think tanks--research and public-relations institutions populated by conservative intellectuals--emerged in the postwar period as places for theorizing and "selling" public policies and ideologies to both lawmakers and the public at large. Stahl traces the progression of think tanks from their outsider status against a backdrop of New Deal and Great Society liberalism to their current prominence as a counterweight to progressive political institutions and thought. By examining the rise of the conservative think tank, Stahl makes invaluable contributions to our historical understanding of conservatism, public-policy formation, and capitalism.

Excerpt

In November 1962, William J. Baroody Sr., the recently anointed president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a small “research institute” in Washington, D.C., wrote one of his newly hired research assistants a letter explaining his duties in AEI’s “Special Projects” program. the recipient was thirty-nine-year-old Karl Hess. Although Baroody was only seven years Hess’s senior, the letter was written as if from a father to his son. Baroody offered friendly but stern warnings to his new employee with whom he was also a friend. As with Baroody, Hess was a committed conservative and both men would go on, only a year and a half later, to work on Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for the presidency. Hess undoubtedly came to Baroody’s aei given that, in Washington, it was viewed as a “business-friendly” research institute—especially when contrasted to the more reliably liberal Brookings Institution. Hess came to aei to turn his personal conservatism into political action. in his letter to Hess, Baroody gave his friend a rude awakening in this regard, writing that in Hess’s job “the ‘don’ts’ are every bit as significant in this respect as the ‘do’s.’ the Institute does not press any particular policy position or even attempt to form, suggest, or support any particular policy position. the Institute does attempt to provide the research assistance which will bring to bear upon any policy consideration the most pertinent facts available and the most knowledgeable considerations by acknowledged authorities in the field. By thus informing policy considerations, at the request of policymakers, we can make our only and best contribution to the educative support of policy discussions. We serve, in this respect, as a research adjunct to the staffs of all policymakers who request our assistance. It is they, regardless of their political positions, who must form the actual policy. We can provide only such research background and assistance as they request.” in essence, Baroody was telling Hess to check his conservatism at the door when working on AEI’s “Special Projects.” in his job, Hess was only to serve as a “research adjunct” to Congress and provide “pertinent facts,” not policy advocacy. Almost exactly ten years later, in October 1972, the same William Baroody, still as president of aei, rose before a group of corporate . . .

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