Fake Indian takes real scalp

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a blatantly fake Indian, but late last month she took a real (if metaphorical) scalp. Warren prompted the Brookings Institution to force the resignation of the Brookings-affiliated scholar Robert Litan. Litan had been affiliated with Brookings off and on for some 40 years. Once Warren complained about him to Brookings President Strobe Talbott, however, Brookings snapped to attention. Litan promptly resigned his unpaid position with Brookings.

What prompted Warren to go on the warpath? Warren supports a proposed Labor Department regulation subjecting brokers and advisers selling IRA retirement accounts to new legal standards. Litan took issue with part of the regulation, arguing in an industry-supported study that its costs to consumers would outweigh its benefits.

Litan jointly prepared a research paper opposing the proposed rule and testified against it before a Senate committee, citing his then current affiliation with Brookings as a nonresident scholar in a footnote of his written submission. He also disclosed the funding for the study on which he relied for his testimony. Warren complained that the funding disclosure was vague and that Litan shouldn’t have adduced his affiliation with Brookings. Brookings supposedly sought Litan’s resignation because, under a new policy, he should not have cited his affiliation with Brookings as a non-resident scholar.

Litan himself subsequently told the sorry story in a column for Fortune. Here he briefly comments on his resignation:

Sen. Warren clearly disagrees with our study, but rather than address its reasoning and facts, she claimed my disclosure was vague (which it was not) and that I was misusing my non-resident perch at Brookings by identifying that position in a footnote (a newly established Brookings rule of which I was unaware but promised Brookings I would not run afoul of again), though I never mentioned my Brookings affiliation at the hearing. The media has widely reported that I subsequently resigned my prior unpaid position at the Brookings Institution, with which I have been affiliated, off and on, for over 40 years, most of them as a paid senior scholar, and once director of economic studies (Readers, if they are interested, can consult any number of media stories for the details).

The Washington Post reported the story, portraying it as a “small victory” for Warren. Clive Crook’s very good Bloomberg View column embeds the relevant links. John Fund puts the story into its larger context in the important NR column “Warren claims another scalp.”

Warren’s bullying letter to Brookings is of special interest. She’s proud of it; she has posted it on her Senate site. Her letter concludes with a demand for information from Brookings.

The real story here, missed by the Post, represents another chapter in the Democratic harassment of independent institutions in the service of enforcing liberal orthodoxy. The Democrats seek to bring these institutions in line with Democratic objectives. Readers with a long memory may recall that the grating Raúl Grijalva subjected Pepperdine University to similar treatment as a result of Steve Hayward’s climate heterodoxy. Pepperdine was one of eight such institutions given the Grijalva treatment. Now we can add the witchy Senator Warren to the roster of Democrats joining in the liberal Gleichschaltung.

STEVE adds: Brookings president Strobe Talbott takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal today with a letter to the editor claiming Warren’s letter had nothing to do with his termination of Litan. This doesn’t pass the laugh test. But this is of a piece with Talbott’s wimpiness during the Cold War, and his general lack of class overall.

Example: At the time Talbott took over Brookings several years ago, Brookings had an ongoing program with AEI, the AEI-Brookings Joint Center on Regulation, under which AEI and Brookings economists did very fine grained technical analysis of regulations, both existing and proposed. Having economists from both institutions—one center-right and the other center-left—gave their findings considerable credibility with agencies and on Capitol Hill.  Shortly after he took over Brookings, Talbott unilaterally cancelled the program. No doubt it was precisely the program’s credibility in critiquing bureaucratic regulation that Talbott couldn’t allow to continue; too damaging to his ideological friends. (Hence his claim to support “independent” research in his letter today is a joke.)

But he wasn’t even man enough to call AEI president Chris DeMuth on the telephone to discuss the matter. He sent a letter.

SCOTT adds: Steve’s note reminds me that I meant to link to Gordon Crovitz’s Wall Street Journal column of this past Monday. Crovitz’s column is “Don’t cross Elizabeth Warren” (accessible here via Google). Crovitz’s column performed the service of eliciting Talbott’s ludicrous letter to the editor.


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