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From Crashing the Gate, page 107:

Think tanks sprung up like weeds. By the time the Scaife-funded Heritage Foundation launched in 1973, it was their eighth think tank focused on economic and foreign policy ideas. Through the 1970s, more such groups were set up, including the American Legislative Exchange Council in 1973 and the libertarian-leaning CATO institute in 1977. By the time Ronald Reagan came on the national scene to run for president against Jimmy Carter in 1980, the conservative movement had about fifteen think tanks pumping out ideas and refining the message. When Reagan won, Heritage gave him a 1,077-page document titled Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Administration, which Reagan promptly handed out to every cabinet member at their first meeting. The antigovernment and pro-privatization document was so detailed that it didn’t just promote offshore oil drilling, but specified particular lots that should be exploited. It provided a step-by-step guide on how to transform conservative principles into government policy. It may have been mind-numbingly boring to read, but the paperback version was not only a bestseller inside Washington, D.C., but tangible evidence of the Right’s new sophistication—one that had a detailed core set of ideas and policies. Amazingly, Heritage boasts that “nearly two-thirds of the 2,000 recommendations contained in Mandate were adopted by the Reagan administration.”

While Reagan ran as an antigovernment Republican in 1980, the conservative machine worked hard through the 1980s and 1990s to create a new agenda for the country, ready for the day that it took over Congress. It was prepared to make the transition from an opposition party providing a bulwark against liberal ruling orthodoxy, to a governing party. “When Reagan and Bush won in the 1980s, they did not have an affirmative agenda for America,” notes Stein. “Their agenda was to lower taxes and dismantle the liberal establishment, the structure of government. Get rid of the Office of Economic Opportunity, all these poverty programs, all these Legal Services—Gingrich, and later, George W. Bush and his frighteningly effective brain trust, drew heavily from Marvin Olasky, a product of the Bradley Foundation and author of the 1992 tome Tragedy of American Compassion. The antigovernment thesis of Olasky argued that only the faith community, private individuals, and charity organizations could tackle poverty. He dubbed his thesis “compassionate conservatism.”

Eight years later, “Bush used that term ‘compassionate conser- vatism,’ got elected, and then that affirmative agenda that they had worked on for fifteen years is now everything you see,” Stein said. “It’s Social Security reform, ‘tort reform,’ preemption as a military policy, No Child Left Behind, ‘Clear Skies,’ school vouchers, it’s the entire agenda.” And if you want any proof that those investments in think tanks and research foundations by the big money conservative donors paid off, simply check out the Heritage Foundation website, where you will find this blurb from Karl Rove: “Heritage is the intellectual centerpiece in Washington for conservative ideas ... We stole from every publication we could; we stole several key staff persons; we want to steal more of your ideas.”

There is nothing shady about this VRWC, there is nothing illegal about the network of conservative organizations promoting and coor- dinating their efforts. In fact, what conservatives have built over the past thirty years is nothing short of brilliant. We can admire it the way we would admire the precision, engineering, and craftsmanship of a stealth fighter.

Yes, Republicans had ideas. Yes, they were looking outside conventional wisdom for solutions to problems.

Yes, they were bad ideas. But Obama didn't say otherwise. He just said they had ideas.

And they did. Their entire movement was built on them, like it or not.

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Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Jan 18, 2008 at 05:19 PM PST.

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