A mentor once told me, “When you speak, try not simply to share your opinion or to criticize the opinions of others. Instead, try to clarify ambiguities and to bring a common understanding of an issue—even if there is no agreement on what to do about that issue.” This is good advice and it’s at the forefront of my mind as I weigh in on a topic that’s somewhat fraught for me.
You see, for three years I worked at the Heritage Foundation as a senior fellow and as the founder and director of its Center for Technology Policy. Heritage was good to me and any success I enjoy was in part made possible by this organization. My colleagues—particularly those in the national security and foreign policy shop—were thoughtful, kind, committed, and supportive. I gave that institution my very best for the entirety of my time there, and I continue to believe Heritage can be a helpful voice on critical issues. But we have a profound disagreement on an important topic and Heritage President Kevin Roberts has asked for a debate—so I’m going to take him up on his offer.
Before getting into the details, readers of this newsletter need to understand a few things about Heritage and how it operates. First, the organization prides itself as being a “do tank.” By this it means that it deliberately seeks to affect policy—not just study it academically and write about it. Relatedly, second, Heritage has a legally separate—but functionally integrated—entity called Heritage Action for America (HAFA) that is an explicit lobbying entity tasked with promoting Heritage’s policy preferences. Finally, Heritage employees operate under a “one voice” policy that basically says, once the institution has taken a position on an issue, all Heritage staff are expected to support that position, or at least not contradict it publicly. I’m not going to comment on the advisability of this structure, but I do think it’s important for understanding how and why Heritage does what it does.