Heritage Foundation Strategic Priorities
Commonsense intelligence plus ethnocentric myopia
Located in Washington, D.C., the Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973, and it has emerged to become an influential conservative think tank.
The mission of the Heritage Foundation is “to formulate and promote public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense,” as described in its Website.
Heritage further declares that its mission is to return power to the people. It maintains that the total of all corporate support is less than 2% of its contributions. It takes no money from government, be it federal, state, local, tribal, or foreign. Its contributions come voluntarily from its more than 500,000 members.
It did not begin so. In its early years, it was funded primarily by the Coors Foundation. In those days, Heritage was small relative to the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, and it differed from these larger conservative think tanks by virtue of its advocacy for the Christian Right.
In the 1980s, the Heritage Foundation grew in influence, as a result of its 1981 publication, Mandate for Leadership, which included more than 2,000 specific proposals for moving the federal government in a conservative direction. The report was well received by the White House, and the Reagan Administration implemented more than 60% of its proposals. Heritage also was influential in the foreign policy initiatives of the Reagan administration, which included military and other forms of support to resistance movements against the governments of Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, and Nicaragua.
Heritage continued to be an influential conservative voice in domestic and foreign policy in the 1990s. Subsequently, during the George W. Bush administration, Heritage supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and defended the practices of the administration in Guantanamo Bay.
The Heritage Foundation had a significant influence on the Trump administration, in which sixty-six Heritage employees and alumni held positions. In 2021, some members of the Trump administration, including Vice-President Mike Pence, were employed by Heritage. Heritage’s association with Trump appears to have given rise to an embracing of issues that are stamps of the Trump phenomenon, namely, immigration policy and election fraud.
At the same time, Heritage appears to be distancing itself from the low-intensity wars of the Reagan years and the neoconservative foreign policy of the era of George W. Bush, perhaps picking up on Trump’s 2016 declared opposition to endless wars. Heritage today advocates a strong national defense and specific policies to contain the threat of China, but it appears to be disengaged from the imperialist unconventional wars launched in the era of Obama, Trump, and Biden against numerous nations that seek an autonomous road in the neocolonial world order.
Fighting for America’s Future
The Heritage Foundation’s recently released booklet, “Fighting for America’s Future,” identifies seven public policy priorities: empowering parents to make education choices; securing America’s borders and reducing crime; ensuring free and fair elections; reversing the growth of regulations, spending, and inflation; countering the threat of Communist China; holding Big Tech accountable; and protecting unborn life and family formation.
In introducing its explanation of these priorities, the document expresses its opposition to “woke totalitarianism,” and it affirms its commitment to the fight Americans have been waging since 1776, a fight for a government that serves the people as against a “political, cultural, and corporate aristocracy” that has disdain for the people. It proposes a return to the founding principles of the nation and to adherence to scientific fact and moral truth, thus standing against the unpatriotic and post-modern assumptions of the woke ideology. In this fundamental epistemological divide between the Heritage Foundation and the woke ideology, I support Heritage.
In all its proposals, Heritage commits to working to attain them through strategies that include working with scholars, Members of Congress, and conservative organizations to submit appropriate legislation.
(1) Empowering Parents to Make Education Choices
The Heritage Foundation wants power over education to be in the hands of parents, not bureaucrats with woke ideas that are not aligned with the values of the parents. To this end, it advocates more control of education by the states, with fewer strings attached to federal funding.
Heritage seeks to eliminate critical race theory from public schools and from military training, on the grounds that it is racist. The key to doing so, the booklet maintains, is to bar federal funding to educational institutions that discriminate on the basis of race.
Similarly, Heritage wants to block any regulations that would replace “the traditional biological understanding of male/female sex discrimination” in education with ideas based on “subjective transgender ideology.” In this regard, Heritage wants to bar biological men from women’s sports.
In addition, Heritage is opposed to the federal student loan program, on the grounds that it has had an inflationary effect on the cost of college, and it has not improved access to higher education for lower-income Americans.
I find these proposals to be reasonable. The demand for parental and community control of the content of the curriculum as well as hiring of teachers was a demand that emerged from the African-American movement in the late 1960s, most dramatically exemplified by the Ocean Hill-Brownsville experiment in community control of schools in New York City, which was derailed by the teachers’ union. All of these years later, I find it astonishing to hear someone maintain that teaching professionals and administrators know more than parents and should be the primary voice, a view based on disdain for the parents of the community.
I have in previous posts argued against critical race theory and transgender ideology (see various posts in the section on USA in the Thematic Index). I have maintained that they are post-modern ideologies that dismiss the quest for understanding on the basis of honest observation, mandating instead a construction based on subjective feelings. Inasmuch as these ideas have disdain for the quest to understand reality in the fields of history, society, and nature, they could not possibly be the foundation for the development of a stable society. Constructed without sufficient empirical foundation and on a basis of different subjectivities, these theories are the source of division and conflict, and for this reason, they are supported by the elite.
Furthermore, the Heritage Foundation is correct in viewing the student loan program as a source of the spiraling costs of higher education. It is a question of the laws of economics, specifically the law of supply and demand. Without the loans, the demand would decrease, forcing the suppliers (the colleges) to lower the price; that is, fewer students would enroll, compelling the colleges to reduce tuition in order to shore up enrollment. On the other hand, with student loans available, financial aid departments in colleges and universities dedicate themselves to the task of putting together financial aid packages to enable students to maintain enrollment, which leaves them with debts that are beyond their subsequent income to manage, given the high cost of housing, transportation, energy, and a consumer lifestyle.
Taking into account the fact that higher education is a democratic right, perhaps it would be better for the government to finance the colleges and universities directly, with the students paying a smaller fraction of the costs without loans, except for lower-income students. The state would finance higher education at a moderate level, compelling the universities to adjust their spending to the modest level of the state’s financing. Colleges and universities would be compelled to attract students on the basis of their high quality and creativity with respect to education, recognized in spite of a modest physical plant and infrastructure.
(2) Secure America’s Borders
The Heritage Foundation booklet maintains that “Americans should be able to live peacefully without constant fear of crime or incursions across our borders. A strong justice system enforces existing U.S. laws, prosecutes criminals, [and] secures our borders.” The document is critical of various tendencies toward less than full implementation of immigration law.
In these formulations Heritage is correct. All societies must make laws and enforce them, including laws and regulations with respect to immigration. All nations ought to enforce their immigration laws and cooperate with one another in the development of a legal, controlled, and safe migration.
Many of the Left have compassion for undocumented immigrants, and they advocate ways to limit the implementation of existing laws, approaching a concept of open borders. But the compassion is misdirected. What is needed is a comprehensive and long-term effort to develop the economies of the nations of origin of the immigrants. This ought to be the highest priority. All persons have the right to dignified work and a materially comfortable life style in their native country. They should not be compelled to migrate to another nation in order to sustain their livelihood.
The colonial and imperialist powers created and today sustain the political-economic structures that promote global inequality, which today qualifies as a major social problem. Massive migration to the core zones of the world-economy, as has been occurring in recent decades, is far from a reasonable or workable solution to this problem.
The developed nations ought to cooperate with the nations of the world in developing mutually beneficial trade among nations, casting aside imperialist wars, sanctions, and economic policies that deepen global inequality. In a world built on mutually beneficial cooperation, the governments of the peripheral and semi-peripheral zones would have the possibility to forge long-term comprehensive plans dedicated to improving the productivity of their economies, thus enabling their peoples to pursue their life projects in their native lands.
Massive, uncontrolled migration to North America and Europe is not a solution to the contradictions of the world-system, and no government should encourage it. The people should not be labeled xenophobic or racist for being justifiably anxious with respect to the phenomenon and for feeling that it is a sign that things are out of control.
(3) Free and Fair Elections
The Heritage Foundation rightly maintains that the legitimacy of government depends on election integrity. It declares that it will continue to advocate for free and fair elections, promoting such measures as requiring voter ID and ending the practice of “voter trafficking of absentee ballots.” The Heritage pamphlet also advocates restricting private funding in election reform. In addition, Heritage advocates challenging elections through litigation with respect to such issues as redistricting, absentee balloting, vote trafficking, drop boxes, and voter ID. It insists that election integrity must be managed in each state, and that Heritage will resist any effort to establish direct federal control of elections, because of its distrust of the federal bureaucracy with its leftist orientation.
The Heritage booklet maintains that the Left has been attempting to undermine elections, and it proposes congressional hearings to investigate the matter. It maintains that it “will continue to debunk the false Left and media narrative that election fraud does not exist,” and it will seek to educate the public on this issue through media appearances, opinion columns, and hosting events in various states.
We all should share the goal of elections with integrity. It seems to me reasonable to expect voters to present themselves on election day with a photo identification, casting their vote in person at election centers. Numerous voting places should be set up, managed by volunteers and observed by poll watchers. Community organizations should be actively engaged in explaining to the people the registration requirements and exhorting them to vote on what should be viewed as a day of community celebration. Absentee balloting should be limited, designed for those who are ill, physically unable to present themselves at the voting place, or traveling.
(4) Regulations, spending, and inflation
The Heritage Foundation is right in wanting to reverse the growth of regulations, spending, and inflation, which are the key aspects of Big Government. For decades, federal government spending has created a state fiscal deficit that contributes to inflation (by stimulating demand without increasing productivity) and which undermines the credibility of the federal government and the U.S. dollar before the world.
The Heritage booklet identifies several congressional practices that contribute to wasteful spending: the inclusion of numerous funding authorizations into a single massive package, rather that debating and voting on individual issues separately; the coupling of defense and domestic spending, compelling lawmakers who want spending for defense to vote for domestic legislation that they do not necessarily support; and awarding pet programs to Members of Congress as a favor for votes. Heritage works to end these practices, and it also makes substantive comments on high-impact regulations. Heritage has published 200 specific recommendations in its Budget Blueprint and has made further policy recommendations in its pamphlet, “Inflation: Policymakers Should Stop Driving It and Start Fighting It.”
However, Heritage’s understanding of this issue is partial. It is true that limited government has the important advantage that it permits the laws of the market to work, which increases productivity; whereas Big Government interferes in the market, not always intelligently. But limited government also permits the market to rule, and this often has nefarious consequences. As is generally understood by liberals, rule by the market can lead to persons lacking in basic human needs, morally objectionable levels of inequality, destruction of the natural environment, and incapacity to cooperate on common human needs. It is for this reason that New Deal social democracy, advocating a level of government intervention, was the prevailing view of economists from the 1930s to the 1970s.
In the 1970s, signs of long-term structural crisis in the world-system became visible. In reaction, the U.S. power elite turned to neoliberalism, which reduced the level of government intervention in the economy. The neoliberal package was aggressively applied in the Third World, using the external debt of states to coerce acceptance of neoliberal measures. This had the consequence of deepening poverty in already impoverished regions of the world, invisible to the economists of the core nations because of their crude measures of poverty. But it was experienced by the people, provoking migrations to shantytowns in cities, and compelling college professors to look for supplementary jobs. It was experienced by the peoples as a global economic war against the poor, launched by the rich nations.
The negative consequences for the peoples of the neoliberal turn provoked a worldwide rejection of neoliberal policies, a process that began in the late 1990s. New political parties proclaiming a new form of socialism or declaring themselves defenders of workers and the people took control of key states in Latin America, a phenomenon that came to be known as the “Pink Tide.”
During this period, the nations that were constructing socialism, like China and Cuba, faced enormous challenges, not only as a consequence of the neoliberal turn, but also as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist bloc. Taking into account the gains that they had previously made in defending the sovereignty of their nations and in providing for the fundamental human needs of the people, they were determined to continue on their socialist road. They therefore searched for new strategies that would enable them to continue to develop in the new international scenario.
What they come up with turns out to be a resolution of the dilemmas posed by limited government versus Big Government. These nations are developing state-directed economies oriented to increasing the productive capacity of the national economy as well as providing health care, education, nutrition, and housing to the people. They are forging in theory and practice state-directed economies that utilize market principles to produce goods and services through both private and state-owned enterprises, while at the same time exempting fundamental human needs from the market.
The political-economic structures in the nations constructing socialism provide little incentive for wasteful government spending. In the first place, the deputies of the national legislative assembly are elected by the people’s delegates, who were elected in small voting districts in local communities, without the distorting effects of electoral campaigns and campaign financing. It is, in other words, a legislative process controlled by the people and not by corporations, the wealthy, or the politicians whose campaigns they finance. In the second place, inasmuch as the nations constructing socialism have limited resources and are under siege by the world powers, their governments do not have the luxury of spending money wastefully. They are constantly looking for efficient means to enhance the productivity of the national economy and to provide for the essential needs of the people with respect to health, education, housing, and nutrition.
The nations constructing socialism in the Third World plus China are worthy of investigation by the West, because they are creating an alternative to both Big Government and limited government. I appeal to Heritage scholars to put aside their anti-communist assumptions and to take an honest and objective look at what the nations constructing socialism in the world today are doing. The spectacular ascent of China and the remarkable persistence of Cuba are not accidental.
(5) The Threat of Communist China
The Heritage Foundation booklet displays a limited understanding of China and the meaning of the rise of China for the world-system.
Heritage warns of China’s military buildup. But China’s military expansion can be reasonably understood as a dimension of its spectacular economic ascent. As its economy has grown, why should China not invest some of its growing resources in strengthening its national defense? This is especially so in the context of a global scenario in which U.S. imperialist military and economic aggression is a central defining feature, a phenomenon concerning which persons dedicated to truth ought to be aware.
In spite of its military expansion, China’s military expenditures are far below those of the United States. And its military presence is confined to its own region of the world, whereas the U.S. military presence is global in scope. There is no objective reason to think that China constitutes a military threat to the United States.
This is not to say that the United States should not have a strong national defense. A strong national defense is good for the economy, given the nation’s productive capacity in the arms industry; and thus it is good for employment. But a strong national defense is for the purpose of being prepared for all possibilities in an unstable and violent world. A strong military is for defense, something completely different from imperialist policies toward the world.
The Heritage Foundation booklet refers to China’s increasing use of “global economic coercion.” This view takes the objective fact of China’s increasing economic presence in the world, and proclaims it to be based on coercion. But the world does not see it this way. China proclaims that it is seeking mutually beneficial trade with the nations of the world, and the many governments with which China has relations confirm the truth of China’s proclamation. They repeatedly have been saying that relations with China are benefitting their nations, facilitating their own paths to economic development, much in contrast to the disadvantageous terms of exchange imposed by the Western powers.
China is a threat to the United States in the sense that it offers to the world an alternative to the Western-centered world-economy, an alternative based on mutually beneficial trade that creates possibilities for economic development for nations in all regions; an alternative in which the nations of the Third World, individually and collectively, have been cooperating. There is nothing illegitimate about a threat of this kind, in that it is based on productive and commercial capacity and on a respectful orientation toward the nations of the world, and not on force or coercion.
In the 1950s, when the United States was at the height of its hegemony, national defense was conceived as the capacity to protect the nation against military aggression, like the German military invasion of Poland, which led to World War II. Today, we should have a strong military to defend the nation against threats of this kind. But the threat represented by the economic rise of China requires a different kind of response.
In considering how to respond to the emerging alternative world order led by China and the Third World, we have to recognize that the emerging alternative world order is consistent with the conditions of our time. The established Western-centered world-system is no longer sustainable, because it historically expanded through the conquest of lands and peoples, and it has run out of new lands to conquer. It has arrived to overextend and overreach the geographical and ecological limits of the earth. At the same time, the conquered and colonized people have developed movements of sustained resistance, arriving to the taking of state power in many cases.
These are fundamental historical and political facts that cannot be undone. The United States must accept them, and decide on its best course of action in consideration of them. It must accept that imperialist military and economic policies are no longer viable in current conditions, and their continued application will only have negative consequences for all. The necessary road is cooperative participation in the emerging alternative international world order.
The USA therefore ought to seek mutually beneficial trade with other nations. It ought to give priority to the development of its productive and commercial capacity. It ought to draw upon its productive capacities and human resources to play a leading role in the emerging alternative international world order. It ought to avoid viewing commercial competitors and rivals as threats and enemies.
The emerging more peaceful and cooperative world order will not be heaven on earth. Therefore, the nation ought to maintain a strong military, so that it would be prepared for any possibility. But it ought to cease with imperialist policies that are designed to militarily intervene and economically interfere in the affairs of other nations in the pursuit of particular interests. The goal must be mutually beneficially trade, for the benefit of all.
(6) Holding Big Tech Accountable
The Heritage Foundation booklet asserts that “Big Tech often acts as an enemy of the people, actively undermining free speech and free and fair elections, using algorithms to manipulate users, exposing minors to dangerous and pornographic content, and leaving users’ private data vulnerable to cyber criminals and state actors. Tech giants and social media companies censor content with which they disagree, including objective fact-based opinions and reporting.”
There is widespread agreement on this among the people and across ideological differences. What can be done about it is not entirely clear. For its part, Heritage commits to using antitrust and other laws and to propose new measures to end Big Tech abuses. The Heritage booklet maintains that bills are moving forward in the Congress, although it implies that there is not bipartisan consensus.
(7) Protecting unborn life and the family
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court Dobbs decision returning the question of abortion to the states, the Heritage Foundation commits to working for laws in the states that prohibit abortion after a heartbeat is detected. This is a moderate position, avoiding the extremes of prohibiting abortion entirely, on the one hand; and permitting abortion on demand at any gestational age, on the other. In a previous commentary, I expressed support for a moderate position as the best approach to the morally and politically complex issue of abortion. See “Reproductive rights in Cuba: An example for the divided USA?” October 7, 2022.
Heritage also supports the right of health care providers and health care workers to decline services for abortion, on grounds of conscience. Such conscience protections seem to me necessary to ensure that citizens can act in accordance with their religious beliefs.
The Heritage booklet also proposes to reverse federal government tendencies toward imposing radical sexual orientation and gender ideology. It opposes proposed Department of Health and Human Services regulations that are based on subjective gender ideology. It proclaims that Heritage will work to promote legislation that prohibits transgender surgeries on children as well as the distribution of puberty-blocking drugs to children.
The United States of America today is unable to resolve its problems and respond to its challenges, as a result of its profound ideological divisions. Both leftists and conservatives respond to this situation by trying to obtain a majority on its side. The Heritage Foundation does so it a dignified manner: through scholarship, reasoning, and persuasion, rather than through manipulation of persons and facts.
But it seems to me that the attainment of a consensual majority that would enable effective and legitimate governance is not possible without an ideological realignment, in which a new ideology would be formed from a synthesis of American conservative values and new concepts of socialism that are emerging in the world today, especially in the Third World, where the practice of socialism incorporates many traditional conservative values.
Let us note several ideological positions of the Heritage Foundation: affirmation of the founding principles of the nation; commitment to scientific and moral truth; opposition to the woke racist and transgender ideologies; support for parental control of the education of their children; opposition to Big Government, unproductive government spending, and an overreaching governmental bureaucracy; enforcement of immigration laws; and reasonable procedures to prevent election fraud. All of these positions are considered conservative in today’s ideological divisions, but they constitute little more than commonsense intelligence. All of them can and should be dimensions of the common ideological ground that we seek and need.
The Heritage Foundation adopts a conservative religious position with respect to the right to life, but it has the intelligence to recognize the need for moderation, in that a total ban on abortion could not be enforced. Its position on abortion, therefore, can be incorporated into the common ideological ground that we seek. As can Heritage’s opposition to Big Tech, which is a view shared across ideological divisions.
There are two conservative positions that Heritage adopts that require reconsideration on its part. One is its embracing of limited government; and the second it its anti-communism and corresponding definition of China as a threat. These two positions are a consequence of the longstanding ethnocentrism of American political culture, which assumes that learning from the insights of other lands is unnecessary. These positions are a consequence of unawareness of the alternative possibility of a state directing the economy in a form that creatively looks for the role of the market in stimulating productivity. They are a consequence, therefore, of limited understanding.
Can these errors be rectified by greater understanding? Would it be possible Heritage scholars to advance further in their understanding on the basis of encounter with the alternative political-economic systems that have emerged in other regions of the world during the last 100 years, in China and the Third World?
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