Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If You Were Just Elected To Congress, Would You Want To Go To 4 Days Of Harvard Seminars... Or A Heritage Brainwashing Session?


Several friends of mine in Congress have complained that the "bipartisan" Harvard seminars for congressmembers-elect are part of the Conservative Consensus regime that rules Washington. One Congressman who went several years ago when he was elected told me this morning that the foreign policy part of it was a cross between the worst neo-liberal adages and plain old right-wing imperialism presented as conventional wisdom. "They have Condoleeza Rice lecturing at this thing, if you want some idea of how clueless the program has become," one progressive told me. "They present her as though she were some kind of a serious intellectual and expert"... [instead of as] "a political hack and possible war criminal."

"The idea that this is somehow some kind of 'liberal' endeavor is just ridiculous," another Congressman told me. But it isn't ridiculous to the far right. They started boycotting it several years ago and putting together a rival shindig hosted by the Heritage Foundation. The Harvard program, which started in 1972, responded by turning sharply right. Harvard describes the lectures as "The Program for Newly-Elected Members of Congress" and claims it "introduces new legislators to the skills mastered by high-level officials who have met the challenges of governing and getting things done in Washington. It gives new Members access to the most respected thinkers and practitioners in the public policy arena. And it affords new Representatives a priceless opportunity to become acquainted with their colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, in a relaxed setting away from the pressures of Capitol Hill... It provides intensive seminars on major public policy issues such as foreign policy, health care and the Federal budget, led by prominent scholars and practitioners representing viewpoints from across the political spectrum. It also offers an unmatched set of workshops to help new Representatives make the most of their first weeks and months on Capitol Hill. These workshops focus on the "how" of getting things done in Washington, and are led by current and former senior officials from Congress, the White House, cabinet departments, regulatory agencies, and the national media." Among past lecturers, they brag, were Eric Cantor, Elaine Chao. Larry Summers, George Will, Condoleeza Rice and the Heritage Foundation's own Stuart Butler.

The program begins with a dinner this evening and runs through December 14. The schedule looks like a real sleeper. And in Republican-World? Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says in 1994, "with the Gingrich revolution-- the first Republican House in 40 years, a new Republican Senate-- we saw a very different orientation. The Heritage Foundation said no more of these namby-pamby orientations. We want one of our own." The conservative think tank scheduled its briefings at the same time as Harvard’s and most of the GOP freshmen attended the Heritage sessions. Ornstein says from that time on, orientations were political and ideological-- part of a larger move, he says, that made politics not just partisan, but tribal. "Whatever they want, we don’t want. And if we mix with them, we may get their cooties." With it's new, DeMint-led sharper edge one can only imagine what they would be offering for newly-elected congressmembers a seminar on what women want by GOP experts Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock? "What To Do With The Damned Mexicans" by Steve King and Tom Tancredo? "How To Deal With Teh Gay" by Aaron Schock and Lindsay Graham? "Don't Let Them Steal 'Lunatic' From Us" by-- who else?-- Louie Gohmert?

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