Does The Right Need a Center for American Progress?

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the McCain campaign's top economics adviser and a former head of the Congressional Budget Office, has got it into his head that what conservatives need is a new think tank:

"I think there is now pretty widespread recognition that the Republican Party needs to become demographically broader, more welcoming of different ideas," said Holtz-Eakin, who ran the Congressional Budget Office from 2003 to 2005. "And it's time to think strategically about how to appeal more broadly outside the South."

That diagnosis is pretty appealing to me, and I would have thought it would be appealing to liberals like Matt Yglesias and Paul Krugman. But it isn't. Why?

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Matt says "The problem they face is that the conservative movement, as presently constituted, is not prepared to accept anything other than "tax cuts" as a solution to anything." Krugman says "conservative think tanks are short of new ideas because new ideas were the last thing the billionaire funders of those institutions wanted."

Okay, fair enough. But isn't this just ... repeating Holtz-Eakin's diagnosis of the problem? You might say that Holtz-Eakin's scheme is unlikely to succeed because he'll have trouble finding enough open-minded billionaires or movement foot soldiers interested in issues beyond tax cuts. But that doesn't make his idea a bad one! If Holtz-Eakin is saying "my movement needs a new think tank because we need to be open to new ideas," I don't think it's a fair response to say, "But that'll never work because your movement isn't open to new ideas!"

The objections stem in part from the Holtz-Eakin's claim that he wants to build a "Center for American Progress for the right." As Matt says, that's a bit weird because the Center for American Progress was supposed to be a "Heritage Foundation for the left." But I guess I always found the original comparison a bit weak. Does anyone really think Heritage and CAP are equivalents? My sense is that CAP does much more -- and does it more effectively -- than Heritage ever did. 

Photo of Holtz-Eakin from the Peterson Institute for International Economics

Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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