Heritage historian Lee Edwards. Photo: Chas Geer
Heritage Foundation historian Lee Edwards delivered the following remarks last week to Heritage trustees.
From the very beginning, Heritage has been a different kind of think tank.
To begin with, we are a conservative think tank with fixed First Principles based on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Other research organizations in this town, such as Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, choose not to admit their philosophical leanings, but Heritage does not apologize for its commitment to basic conservative ideas–limited government, free enterprise, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.
After we finalized our mission statement, based on these five ideas, we were challenged by Rich DeVos to craft a “bold but practical” vision statement. It took us a while but we kept at it because we realized we were shaping the future of Heritage. We wound up with just 17 words: ”The Heritage Foundation is committed to building an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.” And, I am pleased to report, Rich DeVos loved it.
As a conservative think tank, we seek to empower the conservative movement. A strong Heritage and a weak movement do not serve either institution.
We are in fact the lead institution of the conservative movement—leading by what we say and what we do. We sponsor the annual Resource Bank, which this past spring attracted 605 conservative leaders, including 187 CEOs, from 300 organizations across 21 countries. In addition, we have hosted nearly 100 conferences and events and attended another 70 events.
It is a rare day indeed when a conservative group does not hold a meeting here at 214 Massachusetts Avenue or at 227 Pennsylvania Avenue. Direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie, who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for conservative causes in a career spanning 50 years, says simply of Heritage: “I hate to think where we would be without it.”
Second, our primary constituency is Congress, the people’s branch of government. That is why we are here on Capitol Hill at this end of Massachusetts Avenue and not at the other end like Brookings, or a few blocks from the White House like AEI.
While we seek good relations and an open dialogue with the executive branch, especially when there is a Reagan or a Bush in the White House, Congress, the maker of laws, has always been the major recipient of our research.
Third, we are an advocacy tank—that is, we aggressively market and promote our policies and positions. In times past, a think tank would publish a paper or a book and hope that a columnist might mention it or a Congressman might reference it in a piece of legislation.
We do not take ideas, even the best ideas, for granted. We know that ideas remain just that unless they are shaped and molded, discussed and debated and passed into laws. We know that the right law can and often does take years and even decades to pass both Houses—which is why Heritage as a permanent institution is so important.
Heritage is in constant touch with Members of Congress and the media, seeking to convince them that our proposals will improve health care, cut taxes, reduce government spending and regulations, reform entitlements, solve the problems of immigration and deal sensibly with China and Russia.
When it was no longer enough to present the most persuasive policy paper in the world to a congressman or senator and expect him to vote the right way, Heritage did what it had to do—it formed Heritage Action for America, a 501(c)(4) lobbying group. In so doing we borrowed from Ronald Reagan, who remarked, “If they won’t see the light, make them feel the heat.”
Heritage and Heritage Action reflect the two kinds of politics—policy politics and electoral politics—that occupy Washington. Policy politics remains the main business of Heritage.
Fourth, we are independent of any individual, foundation, or corporation. We do not accept government funds or contracts. Our 600,000 members assure our financial and editorial independence. Once, the CEO of a large Southern manufacturer tore up a six-figure check in front of Ed Feulner when he would not promise to change Heritage’s position on an issue. As Ed later explained when recounting the incident, “We’re not for sale.”
Fifth, Heritage is entrepreneurial and functions more like a business than a university. We are centralized in policy making and decentralized in policy analysis. Every year we go through a rigorous “management by objective” process that becomes our “business plan” for the next 12 months. Priority issues are agreed upon and with your guidance, a budget is set.
There are weekly, monthly and quarterly management meetings to assess whether the foundation is on track and to take remedial action if necessary. All the while Ed and Phil and all the senior managers watch the bottom line very carefully. As Ed says, we’re not for profit but we’ve not for loss either.
We encourage intelligent risk-taking—like publishing the first “Mandate for Leadership” when we could not be sure Ronald Reagan would win the presidential nomination, let alone the general election. Taking on Townhall when it was losing money. Without Heritage, Townhall would not be around today—the largest conservative website with over 100 columnists and commentators.
Sixth, we are results-oriented, committed to making a difference, not winning an argument. We follow Reagan’s 70 percent rule: we will take 70 percent of what we want now and come back for the other 30 percent later. At the same time, we do not ignore the long-term. We do not let the urgent overwhelm the important.
Seventh, we are non-partisan. We work with Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, depending upon the issue. We worked with Edward Kennedy on airline deregulation and Daniel P. Moynihan on payroll tax cuts. We do not engage in ad hominem attacks or ideological analysis.
We function as the honest broker for the principal branches of American conservatism—social, economic and national security conservatism. It’s not an easy role, requiring tact, patience, and understanding, as Ed says, “Successful politics is about addition and multiplication, not division and subtraction.”
Eighth, we see ourselves as a family, not just an organization. We take care of our own through reasonable salaries and promotions from within, a well-structured 403(b) plan, and a fully funded retirement plan. We are there for medical and other emergencies. It’s a truism but true—we care about our people.
We encourage our employees to continue their education and build their skills. We are proud of our distinguished alumni like ISI president Christopher Long, Wall Street Journal editor Stephen Moore, and National Review editor Rich Lowry .
Ed Feulner once said that he hoped conservatives would view Heritage as an institution much like their college or university and not unlike their church or synagogue—that is, as a permanent institution that will always represent their best interests inWashington.
Central to Heritage’s success and reflective of our entrepreneurial spirit are our 10 endowed centers—such as the oldest, the Asian Studies Center, the Margaret Thatcher Center, the Center for Data Analysis, the Allison Center, the DeVos Center, the B. Kenneth Simon Center, the Center for Policy Innovation, and the newest, the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.
We take endowments and donor intent seriously. As you know, the bylaws have been amended to include both the vision and the mission statements. Present board members are expected to discuss with prospective board members their commitment to Heritage’s founding principles. Once a year at the dinner preceding a board meeting, we have this discussion of the vision and the mission of the Heritage Foundation, which explains my brief remarks this evening.
Summing up, I think Heritage is quintessentially American:
- It is principled, not opportunistic.
- It’s upbeat, not pessimistic.
- It’s entrepreneurial, not bureaucratic.
- It’s commonsensical, not utopian.
- It is never pompous or smug, choosing to lead by example.
As a result, Heritage has become the most important think tank in the most important city in the most important nation in the world.