Of Think Tanks and Ox Hides: Jim DeMint and Conservative Scholarship

So the best Senator in the U.S. Senate, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, surprised everyone last week by resigning his seat to take the job as President of conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation. While it’s disappointing he won’t be leading the sane-wing of the Senate any longer, his move is probably the right one. First off, it has to be emotionally draining to be the voice of a minority within a minority. DeMint wouldn’t “play ball” which meant he wouldn’t buckle to the Democrats and abandon his principles. He also created headaches for the elite GOP by backing conservative candidates for the Senate. Yes, you can debate the notion of whether it’s better to back “winnable” candidates over more conservative candidates and there were certainly duds, but imagine if Charlie Crist were the Republican Senator from Florida right now?

Second, while it’s a long shot, DeMint can probably do more for the conservative movement at Heritage than he can in the Senate, which shows you just how far the Senate has fallen in prestige and legitimacy. Nevertheless, what we know from this past election is that the public is woefully uninformed. You can only do so much to educate the public, but let’s not forget that if a particular 407,000 Obama voters had instead voted for Mitt Romney, he’d be president. If DeMint and Heritage can hone in on that, who knows?

Of course, the Washington Republican elites are glad to see him go so they can get back to the business of rubber-stamping the Democrat agenda. I especially love this bit from Jennifer Rubin:

Let me first explain why this is very bad indeed for Heritage. Even DeMint would not claim to be a serious scholar. He is a pol. He’s a pol whose entire style of conservatism –  all or nothing, no compromise, no accounting for changes in public habits and opinions — is not true to the tradition of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and others. By embracing him, Heritage, to a greater extent than ever before, becomes a political instrument in service of extremism, not a well-respected think tank and source of scholarship. Every individual who works there should take pause and consider whether the reputation of that institution is elevated or diminished by this move. And I would say the same, frankly, if any other non-scholarly pol took that spot.

Yes, not a serious scholar. Our modern-day serious scholars have done such a bang-up job for the movement, haven’t they? Look at Bill Kristol. He’s just going great-guns right now. I’m not an expert on Burke or Kirk, but did they really argue for compromising with parties who negotiate in bad-faith? Maybe they did. I’m not a conservative scholar either, but I do know that living in a Republic I very much yearn to have some representation. Though I don’t live in South Carolina, I always felt DeMint represented me more than anyone in my sorry state.

Heritage seems like a great organization, but in light of recent events maybe it’s time for some new thinking at the ol’ think tank? Or is that not the point? Maybe it’s not about elections or an informed public but just sitting around and saying “we’re scholars!” that’s more proper and right. Let’s write a bunch of scholarly papers that can published in scholarly journals read only by scholars like us and then hope the rest of the world comes around. That’s academia in a nutshell, no?

With that in mind, let me leave you with a quote from this website’s namesake, Zarathustra (i.e. Nietzsche):

For this is the truth: I have moved from the house of the scholars and I even banged the door behind me. My soul sat hungry at their table too long; I am not, like them, trained to pursue knowledge as if it were nutcracking. I love freedom and the air over the fresh earth; rather would I sleep on ox hides than on their decorums and respectabilities.

Thus Spat Zarathustra

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