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The Engine Room of Right-Wing Propaganda

 

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I’ve written not a word in a week. Here, therefore, is an oldie from September 2021, a sort of backgrounder on the Heritage Foundation, whose “fellows” are even now hard at work on Project 2025, which they hope will finish off democracy once and for all. 

 

How many times, over the last few decades, have we heard mention of the Heritage Foundation, and thought nothing of it?

It’s always been one of those names in the background, just below the surface of the discussion. It’s often accompanied by the words “conservative think tank,” which led me to wonder what they think about. Especially in this age of big lies, insurrection, and election subversion. So I took a closer look.

Turns out, “think tank” is an apt description, because these are the guys who do the actual thinking — such as it is — for the Republican party.

Ever since Reagan, Heritage has provided Republicans with the specious reasoning they use to explain — or explain away — regressive policy positions. The arguments are never particularly cogent, and the facts they use to back up those arguments are cherry-picked at best, invented at worst.

But in recent years, facts of any kind have been an afterthought. Heritage has gone all-in for Trump, and they’ve stopped pretending they’re anything but a propaganda machine.

Think of Heritage as the engine room of right-wing media. Think of it as a primary source of the sound bites, memes, and other toxic misinformation that gets pumped out nonstop over cable news and social media.

Heritage supplies the smart-sounding but wildly disingenuous talking points that are then amplified and repeated in an endless cycle of ideological brain-washing. And they bear a full measure of responsibility for the methodical dumbing down of our population over the last half-century.

Heritage is lavishly funded by billionaires, and it uses its money to buy people with credentials — with degrees in law, journalism, or academia — who are willing to write pseudo-scholarly papers that paint a thin coat of intellect over ideas and policies that are, on closer examination, transparently bonkers.

These writers and “thought leaders” work at various Heritage-endowed institutions, with names like the “DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society” and the “Edwin Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.” They call themselves “fellows,” and they make an excellent living suspending their disbelief, putting their hearts and minds into cranking out deliberately misleading drivel.

And crank it out they do. Essay after essay, several each week, these articles weigh in on every issue you can think of, while staying firmly on the wrong side of each one. The tone is earnest but smarmy, the biases right on the surface.

Each article comes with a set of three “Key Takeaways” — bite-sized talking points, packaged for gullible minds, carefully crafted to give FOX pundits something to sound authoritative about.

(For a couple of random examples, check out what they’ve written recently about gerrymandering and the new Texas abortion laws.)

The Heritage Foundation is the brainchild of Paul Weyrich, who died in 2008. He was the least known, but arguably the most influential of the “four pillars” of modern conservatism — Reagan, Goldwater, and William F. Buckley were the other three. Weyrich was the most self-righteous of these pillars, and the most prone to activism. He embodied all the darkest impulses we now associate with the religious right — racism, homophobia, misogyny, contempt for science — the whole sordid list.

A Christian theocrat, Weyrich dreamed of a nation where church and state were inseparable, and where voter turnout should be kept as low — and as white — as possible.  

In the seventies, he looked long and hard for an issue he could use to galvanize evangelicals, to mold them into a major force in American politics. He tried to get them worked up about school prayer, pornography, and the Equal Rights Amendment, but none of these “crises” got the traction he was after.

Finally, he hit on abortion. Exactly the wedge issue he needed, and he worked that wedge till the day he died. The rest is history. Evangelicals have been voting Republican — religiously, as it were — ever since.

Weyrich founded the Heritage Foundation using money from the Coors family of beer and wingnuts. Its mission was to put lipstick on a pig — to give crackpot ideas an intellectual underpinning, no matter how shaky or dishonest. The goal was to show the world that “conservative policy” is not an oxymoron, that the right could advance real ideas, that they could be trusted to run the government. This was never credible, but that didn’t stop them.

And for a while they really did have ideas. Bad ideas, to be sure, but brilliant compared to anything coming from the right today. Most of them are zombie ideas that would have died long ago, were it not for the enormous financial resources that keep them alive.

The zombie with the most longevity is “supply side economics,” which goes back to Reagan. George H. W. Bush — as staunch a Republican as you’ll ever find — famously called it “voodoo economics.”

This totally fraudulent theory — that lowering taxes magically brings in more tax revenue — was never more than a made-up excuse to cut taxes for the rich. But it became the intellectual basis for “Reaganomics,” despite being debunked and discredited by every legitimate economist in the world. Wherever supply-side ideas have been tried in the real world, they’ve failed miserably and left serious damage in their wake. Yet they continue to dominate Republican “thinking” to this day.

Heritage also gave us the idea of mandatory health insurance for all Americans, which became the basis for the Massachusetts healthcare system — ironically known as “Romneycare” — that prefigured the Affordable Care Act.

One would have thought that Heritage, flush from the apparent success of Romneycare, would’ve been thrilled to see their ideas go national with Obamacare.

But nothing kills a Republican idea faster than a Democrat liking it. So they disavowed the whole concept and obstructed Obamacare’s passage at every turn. Later, they led the charge to defund it.

These days, Heritage has no shortage of axes to grind. Their current obsession is with “Critical Race Theory,” which — need I remind you — is an obscure academic pursuit that barely exists outside certain law schools. But they’re working hard to make it a hot-button issue. They target white parents with videos urging them to “End CRT” in their kids’ classrooms, where it’s hard to end what was never started.

For some reason, they think this sort of nonsense sounds more convincing coming from a Black man. So in one video, you see a token Black father, speaking — supposedly — to a school board meeting. He proclaims, with a straight face, that “Racism in America would be dead today, if it were not for certain people and institutions keeping it on life support.”

Which is where this gets dangerous. Because hanging the story on CRT is just the latest tactic in a grand strategy to influence — and ultimately take over —the nation’s school boards, a project Heritage has been working on for five decades. They have always known that if they can control what kids are taught, they can shape the minds of subsequent generations. Or, more likely, just dumb them down. And it works. 

In fact, the entire Heritage playbook works, and brilliantly, to make the world a significantly worse place. And they have the money to make it worse still.

The Heritage Foundation set out, long ago, to create a national electorate that’s intellectually lazy, civically ignorant, politically ambivalent, and easily manipulated. And they’ve largely succeeded.

For proof of that, look no further than the seventy-five million people who voted for Trump.

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