Recapping 2012: Changing of the Guard

In 2012, three major changes happened in the policy world inside the Beltway: three presidents of three conservative and libertarian think tanks stepped aside, and now we have three new presidents in their place.

At Cato, long time president Ed Crane left as part of a settlement ending a long and bitter battle between him and Charles and David Koch. The battle was over who controlled the Cato Institute, after former chairman William Niskanen died. In the end, the shareholders’ agreement that was in place was dissolved, Ed Crane left, the Koch brothers agreed to be hands off, and in came John Allison, former CEO of BB&T bank. While I wrote a fond tribute for Mr. Crane when he left, I look forward to Allison’s tenure and I hope for the best.

At the other libertarian think tank in DC, the founder and president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is also preparing to step down. Fred Smith will leave on New Year’s (though he’ll stick around to keep fighting the good fight), to be replaced by Mercatus VP Lawson Bader. Bader has experience on Capitol Hill and in think tanks, and as being the “kilts guy.” (His Twitter handle is @LibertyNKilts, for crying out loud.) He’s a great choice for such an esteemed institution as CEI.

Of course, no think tank switch was as big news as Jim DeMint leaving the Senate and becoming the president of the Heritage Foundation. Having the most successful conservative Senator of our age up and quit to run a research institute threw a lot of us off, and it sparked a great deal of discussion on what it meant for conservatives. Ed Feulner, who was running Heritage before, will step down and instead take a newly created position as “chancellor” of Heritage, whatever that means.

Who knows what this means for the conservative and libertarian movements. All I know is that things are changing, and we are passing into the next generation of policy. Although these changes may seem to be a bit too inside baseball for most Americans, all of these institutes have their scholars testify in Congressional hearings, have their reports cited by government officials, and study and create academic policy that can shape all of America’s government. (Who hasn’t been affected by Heritage’s proposal for the individual mandate in healthcare?)

These changes are important, but what exactly they will mean, only 2013 will tell.

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