By Benita M. Dodd
March was eventful at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. More than 200 supporters attended the Annual Reception and Dinner to celebrate 23 years of promoting free markets, limited government and individual responsibility in Georgia. If you were a liberal looking for fault, you could have a field day alleging “right-wing tokenism” on this red-letter day for the Foundation.
What does that mean? Several years ago, a local resident newsperson and his guest made a visit to the Foundation offices to seek advice on how to start a think tank – a liberal think tank. The staff assembled and gave advice freely, believing Georgia has room for all viewpoints and may common sense win. In fact, liberal tax-and-spend ideas only make the Foundation’s free-enterprise/personal responsibility/limited government proposals all the more attractive.
At the end of the meeting, he asked, “Why is there no diversity at your think tank?”
The question was amusing but astonishing. “Diversity” is commonly interpreted as no discrimination on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation. It’s a gross misrepresentation, perpetuated on the left and in the mainstream media, that the denizens of free enterprise, of free-market think tanks and conservatism are rich white people and “evil Koch brothers” types.
Diversity was present, if not evident to the visitors. Nor was it a contrived quota. The group was 57 percent female; women comprised 50 percent of the executive staff. It was 15 percent immigrant and 15 percent of color. Of course, as with any think tank, everyone is expected to support the foundational principles – no diversity there. And by assisting our visitors, the Foundation was, in fact, promoting philosophical diversity.
Back to the annual event: None of the speakers was selected because of heritage, race or gender. Speakers already supported the Foundation’s principles, mission and vision and reflected on the mentors and experiences that guided them to those principles and reinforced them.
The keynote speaker was of (recent) Mexican heritage. The person thanking event sponsors was an immigrant from Africa. The person giving the invocation was in a wheelchair. Four individuals shared their personal stories: a Georgia Tech student of Indian heritage; a successful developer who is the son of Jamaican immigrants; a woman who promotes school choice in Georgia, and an immigrant from South Korea who came here with nothing but is now one of Georgia’s most successful businessmen.
Too often, hype, hysteria and stereotypes prevail. That’s how public policy groups like the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and our sister think tanks get slapped by threatened liberal groups with puerile labels such as “stink tank.” Principles of individual responsibility and accountability and proposals for lower taxes and less government are dismissed as selfish and pandering to the wealthy or bought by greedy corporations.
Too often, opposing groups fabricate crises or skew the facts to encourage greater government involvement – meaning more dollars from taxpayers and less ability for individual decision-making. Big Government and taxpayer dollars have become the crutch for too many special interest groups, especially those operating in minority, low-income and immigrant communities and that thrive on a victimhood mentality. Their “crises” drum up taxpayer guilt and charitable donations and justify their existence:
- They accuse Georgia legislators opposing costly Medicaid expansion of putting rich taxpayers and greedy physicians first.
- They cry “Koch brothers” at every initiative that would limit government regulation and promote lower taxes and individual responsibility.
- They accuse the Tea Party and conservatives of “racism” for seeking Constitution-based solutions.
- They demonize the Thomas Sowells, Walter Williamses, Allen Wests, Ben Carsons and Star Parkers as “sellouts.”
- They demand “environmental justice” penalties from industries near low-income neighborhoods, leaving workers wondering why thus-burdened industries move their jobs away and abroad.
- Instead of accountability, they demand more “investment” in education, public transportation, housing, greenspace or other pet causes du jour – with “investment” being taxpayer dollars and government spending.
It’s encouraging to see more Americans see through the hype and hysteria. Groups like Daniel Garza’s LIBRE Initiative denounce stereotyping. LIBRE reminds immigrants why they came to the United States. In his keynote address at the Foundation’s annual event, he pointed out, “Hispanics have not rejected free market principles. There has just been an absence of the conversation within our community.”
There’s an abundance of common sense out there. Your state’s free-market think tank doesn’t create crises. We don’t provide dramatic headlines or sassy sound bites. What we do is work to keep money in taxpayers’ pockets, jobs in the state and government out of your decision-making.