Ed Feulner leaves The Heritage Foundation today as former Senator Jim DeMint takes over, and his farewell letter is a good reminder of how the freedom fight has been doing over the past 35 years.
First, his letter sounds optimistic. He’s been in the fight for a long time, taking a different perspective from mine on what’s wrong but agreeing that a large part of fixing things is in the political and educational arena:
When we started Heritage in 1973, liberals controlled the Congress and all the socio-cultural institutions. In the White House, we had a president weakened by scandal and who had instituted wage and price controls, grown the welfare state, and trekked to Beijing to meet Mao.
He’s referring to Richard Nixon, of course, of Watergate fame. The EPA began under Nixon. He also unhinged the international monetary system in 1971 when he closed the gold window which let central banks inflate to their hearts’ content. That might turn out to be, in retrospect, the most damaging thing that Nixon did, with the EPA a close second.
We had few, if any, allies in positions of power back in 1973. We were in fact surrounded.
There was no Internet or Fox News or talk radio to break the monopoly of liberal media. The liberal experiment was in full swing. If you drew your inspiration from Russell Kirk, F.A. Hayek, Bill Buckley, and Milton Friedman, life looked mighty grim.
I disagree with his implication that Fox News is helpful to the freedom cause – I consider it as a successful attempt by the left to misdirect attention from real concerns to false ones – but in general, I agree. We were in a pretty pickle.
Within seven years, Ronald Reagan was elected president and started the conservative counterattack against the Leviathan of government. We were there to help him, and he embraced many of the proposals in our 1980 best-seller, Mandate for Leadership. To name just one: missile defense, a proposal that now even Barack Obama seems to be admitting is important.
Heritage had more than a little trouble with Clinton, however:
Getting Reagan to enact our reforms was comparatively easy and the country prospered. Working with our 42nd President, William Jefferson Clinton, was something else…
Welfare reform was one of the biggest battlegrounds, and we were in the middle of the battle. President Clinton twice vetoed welfare reform bills that Heritage helped write. But eventually he signed our reform into law—and then bragged about it as one of the highlights of his presidency!
One thing Heritage has been able to do is provide valuable background information to many (including me) seeking information from places more reliable that of The New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS or NPR:
I am happy to report that the next generation of bright—no, make that brilliant—conservatives is inventing new ideas and breaking new ground on taxes, education choice, and providing for the needy at the state level.
He ended his letter with this reminder of first principles:
Our Founders bequeathed to us the principles and the culture of a self-governing republic. They created the first experiment in leaving people free to live their lives as they wish as long as they don’t infringe on the freedoms of others.
Despite my serious differences with Heritage on major issues over the years, I respect what they, and Feulner, have done. I’m happy that DeMint is taking over and am hopeful that he will continue to make a difference in the future.