Washington Monthly - September/October 2016 - 120

The Myth of the Powell Memo A secret note from a future Supreme Court justice did not give rise to today's conservative infrastructure. Something more insidious did. By Mark Schmitt A Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945 by Jason Stahl University of North Carolina Press, 264 pp. 120 September/October 2016 t one end of a block of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C., sometimes known as "Think Tank Row"-the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institution are neighbors-a monument to intellectual victory has been under reconstruction for a year. It will soon be the home of the American Enterprise Institute, a 60,000-square-foot Beaux-Arts masterpiece where Andrew Mellon lived when he was treasury secretary during the 1920s. AEI purchased the building with a $20 million donation from one of the founders of the Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm. In the story of the rise of the political right in America since the late 1970s, think tanks, and sometimes the glorious edifices in which they are housed, have played an iconic role. The Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the libertarian Cato Institute, along with their dozens of smaller but well-funded cousins, have seemed central to the "war of ideas" that drove American policy in the 1980s, in the backlash of 1994, in the George W. Bush era, and again after 2010. For the center left, these institutions have become role models. While Brookings or the Urban Institute once eschewed ideology in favor of mild policy analysis or dispassionate technical assessment of social programs, AEI and Heritage seemed to build virtual war rooms for conservative ideas, investing more in public relations than in scholarship or credibility, and nurturing young talent (or, more often, the glib but not-very-talented). Their strategy seemed savvier. Conservative think tanks nurtured supply-side economics, neoconservative foreign policy, and the entire agenda of the Reagan administration, which took the form of a twenty-volume tome produced by Heritage in 1980 called Mandate for Leadership. In the last decade or so, much of the intellectual architecture of the conservative think tanks has been credited to a single document known as the Powell Memo. This 1971 note from future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell to a Virginia neighbor who worked at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged business to do more to respond to the rising "New Left," countering forces such as Ralph Nader's nascent consumer movement in the courts, in media, and in academia. Powell's note went unheeded and unnoticed when he sent it, but enjoyed a brief flurry of attention after journalist Jack Anderson discovered it after Powell had been named to the Court. It was then promptly forgotten for another thirty years-the memo goes unmentioned in almost all histories of the rise of conservatism published in the last third of the twentieth century-until about 2001, when it suddenly became the skeleton key for historians and advocates on the left seeking to explain conservative dominance. In 2005, a PowerPoint deck devised by a former Clinton administration oļ¬ƒcial, Rob Stein, made the Powell Memo familiar to dozens of liberal donors, who saw in the story of the right an argument for building similar intellectual infrastructure on the center left, inspiring the creation of the Democracy Alliance, an important funder of liberal organizations. From there, the story took on a life of its own. By 2012, in a book entitled Who Stole the

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