In a recent post (linked below), Jonathan Adler cites evidence that the Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think thank has “banned” conservatives and libertarians critical of the Bush administration from its events. I don’t know enough to comment on Heritage’s alleged banning of Bruce Bartlett and Ryan Sager (referenced in the links in Jonathan’s post). If Heritage did indeed refuse to invite them to events because of their criticisms of Bush, it is a serious mistake on their part.
I can, however, testify about my own experience. Like Bartlett and Sager, I have been very critical of the Bush administration’s big government conservatism, even praising Bartlett’s own analysis here and here, and calling for the defeat of Bush’s political allies in Congress during the recent election. That has not prevented me from being invited to events at Heritage, including a recent conference on judicial reform for which I received a small fee for my participation. Heritage invited me to that event at the recommendation of a George Mason colleague who has also been highly critical of the Bush Administration.
Moreover, the Heritage Foundation has itself issued publications criticizing Bush’s big-spending ways on grounds similar to those argued by Bartlett, Sager, and myself. As far back as 2003, Heritage issued a report denouncing what it called Bush’s unprecedented “spending spree.” They have also criticized numerous other Bush domestic policy initiatives, including his most important new policy – the massive 2003 prescription drug plan, which a March 2004 Heritage study characterized as “a huge mistake.”
Again, I don’t know if Heritage really did ban Bartlett and Sager from its events. Perhaps the people who made the decision to invite me are not the same ones who decided to ban them. However, it would be strange if Heritage were to start banning people for making criticisms of Bush very similar to those advanced in its own publications.
UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett e-mails:
The Heritage event to which I was uninvited due to my criticism of Bush’s policies was not some ordinary one of the type Heritage hosts every day. It was specifically to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1981 tax cut. As far as I am aware, every major living figure involved in the enactment of this legislation was invited except me. I seriously doubt that any are paying contributors to the Heritage Foundation. The organization knows full well about my involvement in the 1981 tax cut because I was a senior fellow at Heritage for three years back in the 1980s before leaving to work for Ronald Reagan in the White House. I was, in fact, the staff person on Jack Kemp’s congressional staff who drafted the original Kemp-Roth tax cut, upon which the Reagan bill was based, back in 1977. Many others also contributed. Some of those invited to the Heritage event did not. People can draw their own conclusions about these facts.
There’s no question that it looks fishy. At the same time, it still seems strange to me that Heritage would uninvite Bartlett for criticizing Bush on essentially the same points that Heritage’s own publications attacked Bush on. If they didn’t want to be associated with a person making those kinds of criticisms, why would they make very similar arguments themselves? Still, either Heritage engaged in petty vindictiveness, or there is some kind of misunderstanding.