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What are leaders thinking at Heritage Foundation?

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Updated: January 10, 2013 6:28AM



At first blush, there is something delightfully Dada about Jim DeMint being named president of the Heritage Foundation. The senator, a tea party hero from South Carolina, is a smart guy and a good politician.

But running a think tank?

It is the scholarly equivalent of appointing Michael Moore to head the Brookings Institution, or Ted Nugent to the Cato Institute, or Roseanne Barr to the Council on Foreign Relations, or perhaps Donald Trump to the American Enterprise Institute.

But think about it more, and the choice of DeMint begins to look brilliant. He is, arguably, the perfect candidate to run a post-thought think tank.

There is less thinking going on in Washington think tanks these days: Following the trend in politics generally, these idea factories have turned away from idea production in favor of promoting well-worn policy prescriptions.

The task is less to come up with new solutions than to win the argument.

The trend goes beyond Heritage. The Family Research Council has joined the shift from wonks to gladiators. The liberal Center for American Progress was created as a conscious imitation of Heritage — more political and aggressive, less bookish. Indeed, researchers there have done extensive opposition research into ... Jim DeMint.

Now, Heritage appears ready to shed that veneer and dedicate itself to ideological and partisan warfare. And there’s no better warrior than Jim DeMint.

Consider how he would enhance Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom. His view of freedom, based on his research? “Freedom is dissolving!” and “America is teetering toward tyranny!”

Education? DeMint likened the Chicago schools strike to Middle East violence, calling Chicago “a distant place where thugs had put 400,000 children out in the streets.”

Health policy? Trying to block Obamacare, he once said: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

Economic policy? DeMint said of the stimulus legislation: “It is a mugging. It is a fraud.”

Capital markets? He said of his effort to block an increase in the debt limit: “We’re at the point where there would have to be some serious disruptions in order not to raise it. I’m willing to do that.”

The presidency? DeMint says of Obama: “Just because you are good on TV doesn’t mean you can sell socialism to freedom-loving Americans.”

National security? DeMint accused Obama of siding with America’s enemies, saying, “I am hopeful that as President Obama grows in office, he will eventually turn away from despots like Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Castro.”

Civil society? DeMint says Democrats are seeking “a retread of the failed and discredited socialist policies that have been the enemy of freedom for centuries all over the world. ... The battle is between the American people and the Democrats, and I like those odds.”

Gender studies? DeMint defended Todd Akin after the Missouri Senate candidate said women’s bodies could avoid pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” His political action committee said: “We support Todd Akin and hope freedom-loving Americans in Missouri and around the country will join us.”

Human rights? DeMint offered his view that if “someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom,” and that “an unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn’t be in the classroom.”

DeMint is entitled to his views, but it’s hard to see how those views, and his crude expression of them, fit with Heritage’s mission as “a research and educational institution” dedicated to finding “solutions to contemporary problems from the ideas, principles and traditions that make America great.”

Such as: keeping gay men and unmarried women from being teachers, throwing around words such as “tyranny” and “socialism,” and trying to “break” an American president.

If DeMint is the right man to be running this prestigious policy shop, perhaps the resident scholars at Heritage should research this question: Is thought dead?

Dana Milbank is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.



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