by Ned Ryun
It was fascinating to watch Tucker Carlson call out Heritage Foundation President Kay James for her recent op-ed at Fox News. James added her voice to the politically correct chorus, informing us that racism is “a cancer in America” and “our Achilles’ Heel that has afflicted us for 400 years.” Some people, myself included, would like to know, who are these racists James speaks of? Are they the people on the Heritage board who appointed her? Are they people who work for Heritage or are in the conservative movement, even people who identify with the America First agenda? She should name names.
To be fair, James condemned the rioting, but she sounded more like an adherent to the questionable New York Times “1619 Project” than a leading conservative who is supposed to believe in the fundamental principles of liberty and opportunity for all to which our nation has cleaved for centuries.
Those principles at one time were core to the mission of the Heritage Foundation. Now its leadership can’t seem to utter them, let alone espouse them.
Today some people, myself included, are rightly asking: if Heritage can’t support the most basic tenets of America’s founding and affirm its rise to exceptionalism, what is the point of Heritage at all? They claim to be conservatives, but what have they conserved? Where are their victories?
Their own list of alleged accomplishments is amusing, to say the least. Heritage claims credit for the list of President Donald Trump’s judges—which is funny, as it is common knowledge among conservatives that the list was compiled, analyzed, and vetted by the Federalist Society at the direction of Leonard Leo and former White House Counsel Don McGahn. Heritage takes credit for being active in some policy issues during the Trump Administration, too. But for an institution that once prided itself on being the “think tank” of the Reagan Revolution, that’s not saying much.
Heritage Fostered Obamacare
What is more interesting—and telling—is what Heritage considers one of its greatest achievements in the past 20 years. Going back to 2003 this former bastion for the limited size of government brags about doubling in size, building an eight-story office edifice with a 230-person seat auditorium. More troubling than expanding its own footprint is its efforts to vastly expand the size and reach of the federal government by promoting and pushing ideas that are antithetical to conservative principles.
Look only at the famous—or infamous, depending on who you talk to—example of Heritage being one of the primary advocates of Romneycare, the godfather of Obamacare. Ed Feulner, former president of Heritage, vociferously denies it, but facts are pernicious things.
I would encourage you to read this lecture by Stuart Butler, who directed “domestic policy and innovation” at Heritage for decades. Butler is currently a senior fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, which should tell you everything you need to know about him. But in 1989, Butler had much to say from his Heritage perch about affordable healthcare for all Americans. Reading them now, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that while not exactly the same as Obamacare, Butler’s ideas, endorsed and advocated by the healthcare experts in the building, were quite frankly leftist ideas.
In the lecture, Butler claims the United States should have a “national health insurance system” that guarantees all citizens “universal access to affordable health care.” Later in the same lecture, he claims, contrary to a previous statement, he believes the American people not only should have access to affordable health care but that the government should mandate “all households obtain adequate insurance.” So if you truly believe that Obamacare has been a disaster, you can’t act like Heritage wasn’t part of the impetus for foisting that idea on the country.
What Has Heritage Done for Us Lately?
Heritage works hard (so do washing machines) churning out white papers, but are they even good policy? One can argue that at any given time they’ve been pro-immigration, pro-amnesty, pro-China, against fair trade and U.S.-based manufacturing, and neoconservative pro-war advocates. Sure, Heritage does host the Resource Bank to enable conservative networking—not that anyone outside of D.C. knows about it.
Beyond that, Heritage’s activities have more essentially resembled a hamster on a wheel. In short, wasted energy with little to nothing to show for it. While the Left and statists organize to expand the state and take away freedom (see Minneapolis, New York City, and Lafayette Square with Antifa and Black Lives Matter’s actions of the past two weeks), Heritage is throwing white papers at them. Whoop-de-do!
Heritage’s ineffectiveness, however, is not for lack of funding. A study of their publicly available tax returns between 2001-2018 shows the Heritage Foundation raised $1.25 billion in that timeframe. Yes, kids, that’s billion with a big fat “b.” Heritage is also, as of the filing of its 2018 990 form, sitting on $260 million in cash, investments, buildings, land, and equipment. Come to think of it, perhaps Heritage is becoming an endowed real estate company with a think tank attached. Prove me wrong.
So it’s not only that the organization is ineffective, to the point of even proposing and endorsing terrible ideas, there is also the opportunity cost of money being spent by ineffective people to consider. Money spent on the wrong people with the wrong ideas always gives you the wrong results.
We are at war with the Left over what the future of this republic looks like—or whether it continues to exist at all. In the midst of this crisis, we have Kay James telling us, essentially, that America is still an endemically racist nation. Juxtapose James’ comments with the work of Donald Trump, who hands down is one of the best chances we’ve had in generations of restoring the republic.
Money Down the Drain
Trump didn’t come out of the conservative ecosystem in the traditional way, though for many years he privately supported in New York the East Side Conservative Club, one of the most iconic grassroots conservative entities in the United States, which helped to found the Conservative Party of New York. His only other real points of intersecting with the movement were his speeches at the Conservative Political Action Convention between 2011-2015.
Think about that: if you add in all the other think tanks and nonprofits on the center-right, from Heritage to the Kochs, down to think tanks at the state level, it’s probably safe to say conservatives are investing half a billion dollars a year (at least) and the best chance they have ever had at winning didn’t come from those investments. Let that sink in and then ask yourself, what are we really getting for all this money? The answer: not much.
I’m all for smart, effective people making good money. But I adamantly oppose sinecures for ineffective people. In 1976, Ronald Reagan famously talked about Linda Taylor, the “welfare queen” who fraudulently lived off hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. To my way of thinking, the Heritage Foundation and, indeed, most of the so-called think tanks of the center-right are nothing more than the welfare queens of the conservative movement.
Eric Hoffer wrote years ago that “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Conservatism, Inc., of which Heritage and the Kochs sit at or near the top, has become a racket that has been selling out the American people’s interests for years on a wide variety of fronts. While we should hope that conservatives someday will get an effective movement worthy of them, rest assured that we have no need for peacetime conservatives who bow down to mobs.
But even more to the point, we have no need to exacerbate the problem by funding peacetime conservatives who aren’t really all that “conservative” anymore. If we want to win, it’s probably time to re-examine the entire premise of the “conservative movement” and its funding.
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Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.
Photo “Kay C.James” by The Heritage Foundation. Background Photo “Heritage Foundation Building” by Ser Amantio di Nicolao. CC BY-SA 3.0.