Friday, March 2, 2012

Politics and Think Tanks, Can't We Separate the Two - No, and Yes I've Tried

After I retired, I became the coordinator for a think tank. Over the years we've tried to keep it nonpolitical. But we are finding more and more that just isn't possible. There are far too many events and important matters in our nation which are thrown into the political arena, thus, we are dragged through the mud just like everyone else. Okay so, I'd like to talk about this for second if I might.

The Hudson Group had an interesting discussion recently, the title of the talk and seminar was "Are Think Tanks Becoming Too Political?" The talk occurred on February 16, 2011 in Washington DC, here is the overview of what was discussed at the event;

"Over the past half-century, think tanks have come to play a central role in policy development - and even in the surrounding political combat. The balance between these two functions; policy development & political combat is steadily shifting. Think tanks continue to serve as homes for some academic-style scholarship regarding public policy, but many have also come to play more active (if informal) roles in politics. Every indication; political, financial, and professional points toward the further politicization of think tanks."

Meanwhile there was an interesting piece in National Affairs by a Hudson Institute fellow titled; "Devaluing the Think Tank," by Tevi Troy in winter of 2012, which sums up much of their argument, but I have some more of my own to discuss with you here today.

Okay so, "Are Think Tanks Becoming Too Political?" No, they already are, they are not becoming any more political than they have too, and the political over-reach into all aspects of the human endeavor, society, and thought is what's causing this you see, okay so, let me make a few more points. Politicians often call upon think tanks to help them make decisions, do reports, and ask them questions or help the political leadership with research on a particular topic. Then politicians defer the assessment and decision to groups of intellectuals, often in case they need a scapegoat, or to shield them from public ridicule from opponents.

Depending on who ordered the research or report, or asked a think tank to do the study, will depend on the sort of answer they're looking for, and most likely the politician will choose a think tank which has political leanings towards their viewpoints, and their voters and constituency. Is that really the Think Tank's fault? I would say it isn't, and if we step back and look at it, I believe you'll see that I'm right on this.

Indeed, I would submit to you that think tanks are no more political than they've ever been, but during election cycles they are brought into the crossfire. If a think tank supports a one candidate's position, or an incumbent's position, then they are taken to task by the other political party, and political adversaries. There's not much you can do about that, and then there is the media that likes to create a firestorm and incite sound and fury for bigger and bolder headlines.

In fact by the time it's all over everyone is riled up, and everything has been blown out of proportion. This is not the think tanks doing, rather it is the politic itself, it's how Americans settle their political differences. You can't get away from the politics, I've tried, you can't run fast enough, as that blob of bureaucracy, and the politicians driving those horses are coming after you one way or another. Indeed I hope you will please consider all this and think on it.