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September 13, 2013 11:54 AM When Wonks Become Commissars

By Ed Kilgore

Want to know how the Heritage Foundation drifted from being the original source of the central idea behind the Affordable Care Act to a gang of thugs demanding that Republican pols kill the Affordable Care Act or else? Read Tim Mak’s piece in the Washington Examiner on how Heritage decided to “get tough” during the Obama administration, which just happens to coincide, of course, with a period of intense radicalization of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

There have been two major steps taken to turn Heritage from a staid think tank serving as a holding tank and staffing pool for Republican administration and Hill offices into a lean, mean, RINO-purging machine. The first was the creation in 2010 of an 501(c)(4) “advocacy arm”—called Heritage Action—that could become engaged in advertising, campaigns, and partisan politics. And the second was the selection of Jim DeMint—nobody’s idea of a scholar or wonk—to succeed Ed Feulner as president of the whole shooting match shortly after Obama’s re-election.

Yeah, there’s some pretense that Heritage Action is the evil twin and authorized bully-boy of Heritage World while the think tank itself continues to graze the clouds with Big-Think about the glories of free markets and the idiocy of any public-sector activity other than blowing things up. But it’s a joke:

[T]he line between the two arms of Heritage is blurry. DeMint and Needham [head of Heritage Action] recently conducted a nine-city tour aimed at defunding the Affordable Care Act, and penned a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to encourage lawmakers to make a stand on the law.

This is why it makes me sort of nuts when people try to divide the political world of conservatives into the sane, practical-minded Establishment Elites that really run things and the unwashed masses of wingnuttery, who make a lot of noise but have no actual influence. If the Heritage Foundation—with its huge HQ on Capitol Hill, its giant funding base, and its vast network of alumni—isn’t in the inner circle of GOP Establishment Elites, then I don’t know who we could possibly be talking about. And Heritage, with DeMint as the head of the calm scholarly part of its operations, is leading the charge for the extremist “defund Obamacare” campaign.

With elites like these, who needs insurgents?

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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