Seen any liberals wearing black armbands lately? It wouldn’t surprise me. You see, it was 35 years ago this month that The Heritage Foundation opened its doors for the first time -- and the policy landscape was forever changed.
Of course, many were tempted to dismiss this upstart think tank. And who could blame them? A 10-person shop trying to compete with the likes of the Brookings Institution and other more “established” tanks, with their deep pockets and long lists of academics, probably didn’t look like much of a winning bet.
Plus, it was the early 1970s -- hardly a banner era for conservatives. Historian Lee Edwards, in his book “The Power of Ideas,” sets the scene:
Conservative leaders and conservative ideas were out of public favor. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, the hero of many on the Right, resigned in disgrace in September 1973. Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan, Agnew’s successor, was the choice of the Republican establishment, not a conservative like Governor Ronald Reagan or Senator Barry M. Goldwater. … In foreign parts, dètente was riding high in the saddle. The president traveled to Communist China to kowtow to Mao Zedong … The United States withdrew from Vietnam … On the domestic front, the president instituted wage and price controls …”
The times were dim, indeed -- and obviously in need of an effective advocate for true conservative ideas. And despite the long odds, The Heritage Foundation parlayed its extraordinary talent and strong commitment to timeless principles into great success. In only a few years, Heritage had become what it remains today: The nation’s most influential conservative think tank and a huge force in advancing the cause of limited government, free enterprise, a strong national defense, individual liberty and traditional American values. Its staff of 200 boasts top-notch experts in nearly every policy field. As Heritage’s current “What Would Reagan Do?” campaign demonstrates, the organization remains a leading guardian of true conservatism.
It took time and effort, of course. Perhaps Heritage’s most noteworthy early success came in 1980, when its forward-thinking, hard-working team assembled the first edition of Mandate for Leadership, an unprecedented blueprint for conservative governance. Sensing, correctly, that the country was tiring of the liberal policies that had brought nothing but crime, inflation and a Cold War stalemate (to name only a few problems), Heritage scholars methodically showed, department by department, how the federal government could be run better.