Ask a conservative to name landmark dates in political history, and Jan. 20, 1981 (President Reagan’s inauguration) would be high on the list. So would Nov. 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell, and Dec. 25, 1991, when the Soviet Union formally dissolved.
How about Feb. 16, 1973? It was on that day, 35 years ago this month, that The Heritage Foundation first opened its doors.
Including that date may seem biased, considering that I’m Heritage’s president. But even outsiders find it difficult to deny this think tank’s influence. Ask The New York Times, which once called us “the most aggressive and disciplined of the conservative idea factories.” Or the academic researchers who recently selected Heritage as one of 12 “Forces for Good” in the non-profit world.
Of course, a birthday is a time to reflect and to celebrate accomplishments -- and The Heritage Foundation has helped propel the conservative movement to many.
During the 1970s, for instance, the U.S. was fighting a long Cold War with the Soviet Union, and victory seemed far from certain. Some Americans went so far as to say that a decline in power was inevitable -- and irreversible.
Heritage disagreed. We published “Mandate for Leadership,” explaining how to rebuild American military and economic power. President Reagan read it. He gave it to his cabinet members. And he acted on it. Within a decade, the Iron Curtain fell, and former satellite states claimed their freedom.
Missile defense, another policy long championed by Heritage, is advancing. Poland recently agreed to allow the U.S. to base missile interceptors on its territory. The military has also conducted successful interceptor tests over the Pacific Ocean, and installed defensive weapons in California and Alaska. The system is far from complete. But Americans are safer from missile attack than they’ve ever been.
On the domestic front, there’s welfare reform.
By 1996, our country was 30 years into a failed “War on Poverty.” Despite trillions of dollars in spending, the number of people living in poverty was unchanged.
Heritage researchers proposed a different path: Reward work; encourage families to stay together, and put a reasonable limit on how long people may receive public assistance. These reforms worked. Millions of people left the welfare rolls and landed jobs. Others entered training programs or finished their education.