New Order at New America

Yesterday the New America Foundation announced that Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, would become the new chairman of its board. He replaces the person who has been in that job in the nine-plus years since New America was founded, ie me.

In 1998, during a brief spell when I was not working for the Atlantic, I heard from a group of people who had been cooking up plans for a new, non-partisan, non-crony-ridden think tank that could help young journalists and policy people get started in their careers. These were Ted Halstead, Walter Russell Mead, Sherle Schwenninger, and Michael Lind -- people all known by that point for their writing and editing achievements who were hoping to create a new institution.

Their appeal to join this effort was persuasive. Over the next year, Halstead (who became New America's president, and who by that time had cowritten a cover story for the Atlantic) and I spent a lot of time raising money to get the institution started -- I mean, mainly he did. Mead (who has an article in the Atlantic's upcoming issue) has been on New America's board since that time; Schwenninger and Lind (lots of good articles too!) have been important figures in its operation. If we were honest all of us would have to admit we are amazed at the scale, importance, and standard New America has attained.

Last fall, Ted Halstead, still in his 30s, stepped down as president after nine years of non-stop effort, to be succeeded by the highly accomplished Steve Coll. In a complementary move toward new blood, Eric Schmidt has agreed to become the new chairman of the board. Given the gazillion-dollar enterprise that Schmidt oversees at Google, versus the tiny, ramshackle enterprise of my own writing life that I "manage," this is a preposterously out-of-scale transition. But it is evidence of Schmidt's public-mindedness that he would take it on.

(Steve Clemons, whom I met while living in Japan twenty years ago and who is now a New America comrade, has a separated-at-birth hypothesis about the Coll-Schmidt working relationship.)

Congratulations to all. Not being by nature an organization guy, I'm actually very proud of what this organization has become -- and has ahead of it.