Since the beginning of the Reagan Administration, the Heritage Foundation has had an incredible impact on Republican policies in America. The right-wing think tank founded by Paul Weyrich, Edwin Feulner and Joseph Coors is largely to blame for the conservative state we find the country in today.
The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973. It grew out of the business activist movement inspired by a memo written by corporate lawyer Lewis F. Powell. Two months after this memo was written, Nixon tapped Powell for the U.S. Supreme Court. The memo called for corporate America to become more aggressive in molding politics and law in the United States.
It is known today as the “Powell Memorandum” and it is largely responsible for birthing both ALEC and the Heritage Foundation. It is also responsible for the US Chamber of Commerce becoming more politically active.
It’s hard to believe that one corporate lawyer is responsible for much of what we see in American politics today. There is a popular meme out there that says “He’s the guy who figured out how to screw the 99% and told the 1% exactly how to do it.” Justice Powell, by the way, was a Democrat. But I digress.
In January 1981, the same month Ronald Reagan came into office, Heritage published the “Mandate for Leadership.” It was the report Republicans had been waiting for. It contains more than 2,000 specific proposals to move the federal government in a conservative direction.
The report was so well received by Reagan that several of its authors went on to take positions in his administration. According to Richard Holwill, by the end of 1981, approximately 60% of the 2,000 proposals were implemented or initiated. And so it began.
Over the last thirty years, The Heritage Foundation convinced Reagan to adopt the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as Star Wars. They influenced George Bush Sr. to go to war with Iraq in the early nineties. Bush Senior also adopted 6/10 proposals from a “Mandate for Leadership” update.
Democratic administrations were not immune to the influence of the Heritage Foundation either. At least not Clinton’s. Much of Heritage’s recommendations on welfare were implemented in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, ending welfare as we had come to know it.
The Heritage Foundation consists largely of corporate CEOs and venture capitalists. But it also involves heads of consulting firms, diplomats and journalists. Yes, journalists.
The non-profit organization has come a long way since Joseph Coors (of Coors Beer) first poured in $250,000 to establish it. The foundation now has an annual budget of more than $80 million. Former Senator and new Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint has a lot of money to throw around.
DeMint said he took the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with the broader public. What DeMint may not realize is that for the past few years, the Heritage Foundation is actually doing more damage than good to the conservative cause.
If you have ever heard a Fox News pundit say that the poor are not really poor because they have refrigerators, you know what I’m talking about. The Heritage Foundation may be responsible for where we’re at in terms of ideological division, but as it slides further to the right, its relevance will further diminish.
Back in 2011, Heritage published a study on poverty in America. It was heavily panned for being distorted, misleading, and wrong for embracing anti-poor stereotypes. The report was done in order to justify further cutbacks in the social safety net.
The study was foolishly adopted by Republicans and it was subsequently incorporated into their campaign platform of 2012. It was the basis for Mitt Romney’s 47% remark as well as Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity.
It’s well known that conservatives have long regarded the poor as lazy and unproductive members of society, and the study serves to reinforce their ideology and determination. It has since been rammed down America’s throats on a daily basis by Fox News, right-wing talk show hosts, Republican politicians and Tea Party conservatives.
In addition its belittling of the poor, the Heritage Foundation also did an about-face on health care. The individual mandate in Obamacare was a Heritage idea. Although the reform first surfaced in 1989, it was pushed in the early nineties as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s drive for universal healthcare.
Ironically, the same group of people who praised this type of health care twenty years ago are responsible for convincing Republicans to shut down the government in a last ditch effort to repeal it.
Despite all their efforts, the strategy of the Heritage Foundation has largely backfired in the last few years. Their actions have caused the GOP to be labelled as a party out of touch with the needs of the people. For the sake of a progressive America, we can only hope Jim DeMint continues the foundation’s march into irrelevance.