Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, November 25, 2013 7:33 pm

I love it when they eat their own

The Heritage Foundation used to be a reliably conservative, respectable Washington think tank, one with which one could disagree without necessarily believing it to be in any way insane. It has become, instead, a parliament of hacks. It would be easy to blame former U.S. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who became the foundation’s chief in April, for this problem. And there would be an element of truth in that; DeMint is crazier than a bag of bugs. But the real problem began before DeMint, with an offshoot of the foundation called Heritage Action, and its CEO, a wealthy young ideologue named Michael Needham:

Needham is the 31-year-old CEO of Heritage Action, the relatively new activist branch of the Heritage Foundation, the storied Washington think tank that was one of the leaders of the conservative war of ideas ever since it provided the blueprint for Ronald Reagan’s first term. Although DeMint is Heritage’s president, it was Needham who had designed much of the defund Obamacare strategy. Beginning in 2010, when Heritage Action was founded, Needham pushed the GOP to use Congress’s power of the purse to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act. He formed a grassroots army, which he used to keep congressional Republicans in line. “They make six hundred phone calls and have a member of Congress in the fetal position,” says one GOP congressional staffer.

After months of furious lobbying, Needham sold, at most, 20 members of the House on his plan of attack. In the end, this was enough to cement the party line—and lead the GOP to a spectacular, deafening loss.

Sorting through the wreckage, Washington conservatives can barely contain their anger at Needham for his ideological inflexibility and aggressive, zero-sum tactics. “Their strategic sense isn’t very strong,” griped a prominent Republican lobbyist. “They’ve repeatedly been wrong about how to handle this.” Says a senior House Republican aide, “Mike Needham played a large role in defeating ideas that would have worked out better.”

But the wrath is not solely reserved for Needham; his employer now inspires plenty of disgust among conservatives, too. Increasingly in Washington, “Heritage” has come to denote not the foundation or the think tank, but Heritage Action, Needham’s sharp-elbowed operation. Instead of fleshing out conservative positions, says one Republican Senate staffer, “now they’re running around trying to get Republicans voted out of office. It’s a purely ideological crusade that’s utterly divorced from the research side.” (“If Nancy Pelosi could write an anonymous check to Heritage Action,” adds the House aide bitterly, “she would.”)

As a result, the Heritage Foundation has gone from august conservative think tank revered by Washington’s Republicans to the party’s loathed ideological commissar. “It’s sad, actually,” says one Republican strategist. “Everybody forgets that Heritage was always considered the gold standard of conservative, forward-looking thought. The emergence of Heritage Action has really transformed the brand into a more political organization.”

Needham’s strategy has also sparked a war inside the halls of the foundation itself, where many feel duped by the stealthy yet brutal way the Heritage Action takeover went down. Some now wonder whether the foundation can ever recover its reputation as a font of ideas. “I don’t think any thoughtful person is going to take the Heritage Foundation very seriously, because they’ll say, How is this any different from the Tea Party?” says Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. Looking at the organization he helped to create, Edwards finds it unrecognizable. “Going out there and trying to defeat people who don’t agree with us never occurred to us,” said Edwards. “It’s alien.”

So how did someone so young get into such a position of responsibility?

Like all good revolutionaries, Michael Needham had a sterling upbringing, the kind that allows a young man to pursue ideological purity free from worry about consequence or reality. Needham’s mother is a former Saks Fifth Avenue executive; his father runs a boutique investment bank. The future Tea Party rabble-rouser grew up on the Upper East Side. He attended Collegiate, a prestigious New York prep school, then Williams. As a political science major and, eventually, the editor of the college newspaper, Needham loved to provoke his liberal classmates, arguing that Social Security was unnecessary and that the minimum wage hurt the working poor. “It’s amazing how little reflection he’s given to his privilege,” says a classmate. “It was all kind of a game to him. It was an experiment in winning.”

After Needham graduated from Williams in 2004, Bill Simon Jr., a former California Republican gubernatorial candidate and fellow Williams alum, helped Needham secure the introductions that got him a job at the foundation. Ambitious and hard-working, he was promoted, in six months, to be [now-retired Heritage co-founder Edwin] Feulner’s chief of staff. According to a former veteran Heritage staffer, Needham is intelligent but “very aggressive”: “He is the bull in the china closet, and he feels very comfortable doing that.” (“I consider him a friend,” says the college classmate, “but he’s a huge [expletive].”) In 2007, Needham, whose father has given generous donations to both Rudy Giuliani and the Heritage Foundation, went to work for Giuliani’s presidential campaign. When the campaign folded, Needham followed his father’s footsteps to Stanford Business School and then came back, at Feulner’s bequest, to run Heritage Action.

Needham, who in his time at Heritage, had been a proponent of ramping up the foundation’s lobbying efforts, was also given a lieutenant. He wasn’t the seasoned lobbyist who might be expected to keep tabs on his young boss, but a 31-year-old evangelical named Tim Chapman who had a few years experience working on the Hill. Heritage elders viewed Chapman, a boyish young man with freckles and strawberry blond hair, as the golden retriever to Needham’s pitbull. The two were installed in a townhouse down the street from Heritage headquarters, which soon came to be known, dismissively, as “the Frat House.” A young staff of about a dozen people worked there, hanging around in easy chairs, tossing a football around. The foundation scholar recalls stopping by and noting that the conversations at the Frat House sounded “more the way you’d expect a bunch of interns sitting around to sound, talking politics, trying to figure things out.”

That’s right, kids: The Republican Party, which likes to market itself as the grownups in the room, is letting both its political efforts and the keystone of its policy-development infrastructure be destroyed by a spoiled child. And we wonder why they can’t govern.

Advertisements

Friday, December 4, 2009 9:40 pm

Odds and ends for 12/4

Hmm, roasted or fried? Um, I mean, we come in peace: Kara Swisher renders Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s Wall Street Journal op-ed into plain English.

Is your boss stealing from you? Could well be.

Good news/very bad news: In the week ending Nov. 28, first-time unemployment claims fell from 462,000 the previous week to 457,000. The very bad news: Emergency claims by people whose unemployment benefits have run out rose by 265,000. In one week. The total was more than 3.8 million, compared with 777,000 a year ago.

Will wonders never cease?: Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., does one worthwhile thing in his miserable, misanthropic life and carves Ben Bernanke a new orifice. Fellow tool Jim DeMint, R-S.C., actually asks helpful questions.

Yes, apparently wonders will cease: Sarah Palin, birther.

And then wonders that already have happened will un-happen: Sarah Palin Goes Rogue Fail.

Shorter Mitt Romney economic plan: “More money for me and my friends!”

You’re worried about health care and the deficit? Fine: Let’s talk about that: Republicans and some “centrist” Democrats say they worry about what health-care reform will do to the deficit. They need to worry more about what will happen to the deficit if health-care reform doesn’t pass. (But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Bush 43’s head of Medicare.)

Pwn3d!: Sens. Tom “Sanctimonious” Coburn and David “Diapers” Vitter introduce what they intend to be a poison-pill amendment to health-care reform that would require members of Congress to enroll in the public option … only to be swarmed by Democrats who think that’s a great idea and sign on as co-sponsors. Hee.

Quote of the day, from commenter “paradoctor” at Hullabaloo, on the douchiness of Senate Republicans: “To them, corporations are people and women are an abstraction.”

Nature strikes back: Asian carp are invading fresh waters of the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes. Bye-bye, trout. And apparently you shouldn’t use a motorboat to go fishing for them because the sound of the motor just pisses them off. (h/t: Nance)

New Internet meme: “There’s far too much detail here for this to be a fabrication.”

And he’d have lived forever if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids and their dog: Aaron Schroeder, composer of hundreds of pop hits ranging from “It’s Now or Never” and “Good Luck Charm” to the theme from the TV cartoon “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?,” is dead at 83.

Thursday, July 9, 2009 8:38 pm

Welcome to Weimar

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:38 pm
Tags: ,

No, really. Just ask U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC:

[Immigrants] understand socialism. They understand tyrants. But none of us have ever had it here. We don’t even know what it looks like. Part of what we’re trying to do in [DeMint’s book] “Saving Freedom” is just show that where we are, we’re about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy. You still had votes but the votes were just power grabs like you see in Iran, and other places in South America, like Chavez is running down in Venezuela. People become more dependent on the government so that they’re easy to manipulate. And they keep voting for more government because that’s where their security is. When our immigrants get here, they’re worried, because they see it happening here.

So ignorant of history. So full of Fail and Teh Stoopid. Deconstructing it could take years and cost thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. Unless we’re willing to use unconventional weapons. I hesitate, but at Talking Points Memo, “The Commenter Formerly Known as NCSteve” goes there, for the win:

Yes, of course. It’s all so clear now. We’ve become the Weimer Republic. We’ve thrown off the rule of a hereditary despot who rashly led us into an unwise war and now, without his firm, steadying hand, we’ve descended into chaos and dependence.

If only we had a frankly anti-democratic, racist, authoritarian party to save us from the Communists and the Socialists and the evils of majority rule. A party with a cadre of fearful, frenzied xenophobic goons at its command and an array of thrilling orators who could whip up crowds of supporters into violent frenzies against those corrupt, decadant, unpatriotic elites who are daily stabbing our beloved homeland in the back. A party that defines “patriotism” in terms of ethnic identity, nationalistic symbolism and a quasi-mystical veneration of rurality and soil, rather than shared constitutional ideals. A party that abhors popular culture and modern art. A party with its own anthem.

Yes, clearly the time has come for such a movement to arise, arise and save us from ourselves. Yet, such a movement must have a leader. A man of ideas and vision and an unshakable firmness of purpose. Where, oh where can we find such a man? I know not, but he must be out there for, surely, in this time of turmoil and degeneracy, the hour and this man of destiny must meet.

Am I supposed to hate Obama because he’s a Nazi, because he’s a Communist, because he’s a Socialist or because he’s a fascist?  I can never remember.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: