“(Brookings Institution President) Mr. Talbott will learn that the left’s goal is not more disclosure. The left’s goal is silencing critics. In Washington, that’s especially true for research such as cost-benefit analysis that highlights risks from too much regulation. “, L. Gordon Crovitz, WSJ
By L. GORDON CROVITZ
Oct. 11, 2015 6:01 p.m. ET
October 11, 2015, L. Gordon Crovitz, The Wall Street Journal
In the Tank for Elizabeth Warren
Brookings has been mugged by the reality of progressive animus for dissenting views.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a Planned Parenthood conference in Washington, D.C., July 8. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
By L. Gordon Crovitz
As details emerge about how the centrist-liberal Brookings Institution sacrificed one of its longest-serving scholars after a demand from the hard left, people at the think tank may be recalling the Irving Kristol quip that a neoconservative is “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.”
The Brookings reality is that Sen. Elizabeth Warren demanded the scalp of economist Robert Litan for daring to point out the downside of a new federal regulation she backs. Brookings delivered the head of Mr. Litan on a platter, ending a 40-year affiliation in Twitter time.
Mr. Litan, no conservative, is known for careful economic analysis. He testified in Congress in July against a proposed regulation of financial advisers that he found would deprive less-wealthy investors of needed advice. Ms. Warren is desperate to save the regulation, which is opposed by half of congressional Democrats and virtually all Republicans because its costs far outweigh its benefits.
Instead of substantively challenging Mr. Litan’s analysis, Ms. Warren sent a letter to Brookings claiming he’d been “vague” in disclosing that he was a paid consultant. In fact, his testimony clearly asserted: “The study was supported by the Capital Group, one of the largest mutual fund managers in the U.S.”
In a letter to the editor responding to last week’s column and an earlier editorial, Brookings President Strobe Talbott claimed: “Our decision was not connected in any way to . . . Sen. Warren’s disagreement with his views.”
But the timeline explains why Ms. Warren’s website touts her letter:
Mr. Litan testified in July. Soon after, a Brookings staffer called to inform him he had violated a new Brookings rule against nonresident scholars’ citing their Brookings affiliation in congressional testimony. That was the first he had heard of the rule; the bio in his testimony had included a reference to Brookings.
Weeks later, on Sept. 28, Mr. Litan heard from Ms. Warren’s staff that her letter was on its way to Brookings. In conversations that day and early the following morning, Brookings officials told Mr. Litan not to worry, and he reassured them that he wouldn’t include his Brookings affiliation in future congressional testimony.
The Washington Post posted a story about the Warren letter at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 29. A Twitterstorm followed. By 9:30, Mr. Litan got the call saying there was “distress” at Brookings and he should resign.
Mr. Talbott told me by phone last week he considered the situation “ironic” because his intention was to protect independence at Brookings. Mr. Talbott said the purpose of the new rule was to shield Brookings from the “toxic atmosphere in Washington” by keeping the think tank’s scholarship separate from paid consulting work. He said consulting had become controversial even when the work is of the “highest intellectual quality,” as he acknowledged Mr. Litan’s was.
But Mr. Talbott sacrificed Mr. Litan just after the Warren letter went public, not months before, when Mr. Litan testified. And Mr. Talbott has enforced the new rule inconsistently. It took me less than a minute of searching the Brookings website to find another example of a nonresident scholar who, like Mr. Litan, included a Brookings affiliation in recent congressional testimony. Since it’s likely the other scholar is no guiltier of wrongdoing than Mr. Litan was, I’ll say no more.
Where does this all end? Should Mr. Litan have somehow expunged his decades of service at Brookings from his 35-page curriculum vitae to prevent Ms. Warren from pressuring the think tank? The trustees of Brookings include top executives at private-equity firms such as Carlyle Group and Silver Lake and banks such as Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bankand J.P. Morgan. Will Ms. Warren also agitate for their resignations?
Mr. Talbott will learn that the left’s goal is not more disclosure. The left’s goal is silencing critics. In Washington, that’s especially true for research such as cost-benefit analysis that highlights risks from too much regulation.
Instead of yielding to pressure from leftists, Mr. Talbott would be better off ensuring that the work his scholars do in any capacity meets the highest standards. He could then tell critics in Washington to engage on the merits or buzz off.
If Brookings declines to defend the integrity of its scholars, it will endure endless attacks on their ability to do their jobs. As for the scholars, they’re free to join earlier generations of mugged liberals by embracing neoconservatism and its quaint support for free speech.