DeMint’s Heritage

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Congratulations are in order to the Heritage Foundation for its appointment of Senator DeMint as its new president — and for the triumphant tour of its outgoing president, Edwin Feulner. It’ll be a long time before a single individual has played such an outsized role in building a think tank into a powerful national institution as Mr. Feulner has played at Heritage, which had nine employees when he came in as its president in 1977 and has, according to Wikipedia’s tally, something on the order of 275 today. Under Mr. Feulner, Heritage provided much of the intellectual fuel for the Reagan revolution, taught a generation of would-be policy makers how to market their ideas, and provided a platform for thousands of public intellectuals who hungered for a place in the public debate.

Our own acquaintance with Mr. Feulner was made in the 1980s, when he brought the Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek in to have lunch with the editors of the Wall Street Journal. What impressed us then was the pleasure Mr. Feulner derived from sharing his friendship with Hayek with journalists who might be receptive to the economist’s ideas. At the time, Hayek was nursing his challenge for a global debate between capitalism and socialism, as well as his ideas for the denationalization of money, so the market could be liberated from legal tender laws to find on its own the soundest medium of exchange. Watching Mr. Feulner at work among the intellectuals reminded us of nothing so much as a bumble bee working a rich garden.* What a harvest he produced over the decades.

It says something about Mr. Feulner’s achievement that a secure senator like Mr. DeMint would quit the upper chamber to take over the leadership of a think tank. The appointment is being derided in the Washington Post, whose Dana Milbank reckons that “Heritage appears ready” to shed its veneer and “dedicate itself to ideological and partisan warfare.” It strikes us that underestimated is just what Mr. DeMint wants to be at this stage of things. Our first meeting with him was when he was in New York in 2003, when he was a congressman running to succeed South Carolina’s Fritz Hollings in the upper house. He was wearing a pin with the flags of America and Israel and plumping for such a rich array of issues that we remarked that Republicans scouting for ideas would find his office worth a stop.

Our own favorite feature of the senator’s recent idea-mongering is the Sound Money Promotion Act, which the Sun was the first newspaper to endorse. The act would, as it was characterized by Mr. DeMint’s press release at the time, remove the tax burden on gold and silver coins that have been declared legal tender by either the federal government or state governments. If that sounds like arcane point, beware of underestimating. It is a revolutionary measure that would put America back on the road to the kind of monetary system that it was envisioned by such extremists as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thos. Jefferson, and Jas. Madison. We cite it as but one of the many ideas that made Mr. DeMint such an exciting figure for so many in recent years.

No doubt the difficulty of pushing such revolutionary ideas through the senate in the Obama years is one of the reasons that Mr. DeMint is making the move announced on Friday. The Democrats may jeer, and we don’t mean to suggest that there is no honor, or even purpose, in serving in the minority. But the senator sets an important example. We are in a time when things are so fraught that the bedrock of the Constitution is being exposed, and tbe light of Sinai is being obscured in the smoke of socialism. It is a stage of things where real transformation awaits the nurturing of the ideas — old ones as well as new — and the pollination of the vast garden of America. What a moment for an institution like Heritage and a man like Mr. DeMint. And what an opportunity has been handed over by Mr. Feulner.


* It turns out, we learn from Daniel Henninger’s interview with Mr. Feulner, that President Reagan was one of the persons to whom Mr. Feulner introduced Hayek, a meeting that took place in the Oval office.

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