Christopher DeMuth will step down as president of the American Enterprise Institute before the end of 2008. Concurrent with this announcement, DeMuth as an op-ed in the WSJ reflecting on his tenure and the role of think tanks in public policy.
Think tanks are identified in the public mind as agents of a particular political viewpoint. It is sometimes suggested that this compromises the integrity of their work. Yet their real secret is not that they take orders from, or give orders to, the Bush administration or anyone else. Rather, they have discovered new methods for organizing intellectual activity--superior in many respects (by no means all) to those of traditional research universities.He credits part of the success of right-leaning think tanks like AEI with their having spent "30 years in the political wilderness," a course he recommends for newer think tanks of the Left. DeMuth also tosses in a tantalizing prediction: If Senator Clinton is elected president, corporate tax rates will decline during her tenure.
To be sure, think tanks--at least those on the right--do not attempt to disguise their political affinities in the manner of the (invariably left-leaning) universities. We are "schools" in the old sense of the term: groups of scholars who share a set of philosophical premises and take them as far as we can in empirical research, persuasive writing, and arguments among ourselves and with those of other schools.
This has proven highly productive. It is a great advantage, when working on practical problems, not to be constantly doubling back to first principles. We know our foundations and concentrate on the specifics of the problem at hand.