Frum on the State of Right-of-Center Think Tanks

David Frum assesses the current state of right-of-center think tanks and the significance thereof.

David Frum wrote the following a few days ago regarding the state of rightward think tanks at the moment:

It’s very sobering to review the work produced by the leading Washington conservative think tanks over the past 5 years, and compare it to the work of prior periods. Even more sobering to review the work produced over the past 2 years. You might say that there has been much more “tank” than “think” – that these institutions have been acting not as the Harvards of the right, but as the armored fighting vehicles of the policy world.

This strikes me a fair assessment (indeed, of the general state of mainstream rightward politics at the moment).

Why does this matter?  Frum notes:

We are likely soon to have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, maybe the U.S. Senate too. And what will that majority do? The answer seems to be: They have not a clue. Unlike the Republican House and Senate majorities of 1994, unlike the Republican Senate majority of 1980, these new majorities will arrive with only slogans for a policy agenda. After staging a for-the-record vote against Obamacare, and after re-enacting the Bush tax cuts, it will be policy mission accomplished.

There’s little other policy inventory, because the think tanks have not done their proper work. Without a think tank agenda, the new majority will rapidly decline into a brokerage service for K Street.

At a minimum it is difficult to argue that there is a rigorous policy debate taking place in the right-of-center portion of the political spectrum at the moment.  Rather, it seems to consist of a simplistic combination of “the Obama agenda is bad” and “tax cuts are good.”  A serious legislative agenda this does not make.

Photo: mine.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. ponce says:

    Funneling government pork to Republican special interest groups while decrying government spending has always worked for the Republicans in the past.
    So what if the Tea Partiers learned they got used like toilet paper after the Republicans pass their first budget?

  2. Wayne says:

    If the Republicans went in and did the bare minimum then take the rest of the year off, it would be a great improvement over what is happening now.

    Why is it people think that to govern well one must create a great deal of government?

  3. john personna says:

    I was fishing for opinion when I linked to that Frum article from these comments a week ago.  I didn’t really expect such agreement.  Maybe because I did think Wilkinson outside current mainstream …
    (Wayne, isn’t Wilkinson more the “do the minimum and go home” type than those who kicked him out?)

  4. john personna says:

    To throw another link, interesting graphs here:

    I’d say the question becomes how do … well, people like Wayne, for the point of conversation … respond to government payrolls which are actually falling?
    Costs rise, certainly, but that kind of changes the definition of “big government.”  It becomes a government writing a lot of checks, rather than a government employing a lot of people.

  5. reid says:

    I like the sign.  There’s far too little of that kind of thought.
    Many (most?) Republicans seem to have had the auto-pilot set to dumb for so long that they don’t know how to govern.  Really, how much of the day do you think they spend thinking about serious policy issues?  I can only picture Boehner at the golf course or bar, with maybe a 20-minute meeting to go over the day’s talking points.
    But I could be wrong….

  6. floyd says:

      A Republican ship of state is a derelict [rudderless] , while a Democrat ship of state has a faulty compass [direction] determined to run it aground, and a sextant [vision] which will ultimately leave America “seeing stars”[metaphoricly].


  7. Gerry W. says:

    I don’t think you have to have big government, but you need an effective government and you have to manage problems when they arise. All Bush did was give tax cuts and said “stay the course” and our problems piled up. And today all republicans say is have more tax cuts. Well that excludes what we do with future science, what we do with globalization, what we do with the infrastructure, and numerous other problems. The country does not run on automatic. But we know what republicans like Palin and others say, it is “free market principles.” That is like me saying that we have weather, but I can’t tell you if it is going to rain, be sunny, cloudy, snowing, or windy.

  8. Herb says:

    A Republican ship of state is a derelict [rudderless] , while a Democrat ship of state has a faulty compass [direction] determined to run it aground, and a sextant [vision] which will ultimately leave America ”seeing stars”[metaphoricly].

    So, in other words, we’re screwed…

  9. floyd says:

    Unless their is a significant revival of principle in the electorate…yes.
     I have little optimism in a nation where simply stating the obvious is unacceptable.
    As sweet as the Siren’s song of the left sounds to the deceived, it still leads to a ship smashed on the reef of reality.