On October 9 in Portland, Maine, Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner was honored by the Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC). Dr. Feulner was introduced at the event by longtime MHPC Director Neal B. Freeman.
Most of you are familiar with the seminal contributions made to conservatism by the late William F. Buckley, Jr. In the early years of conservative revival, Bill Buckley and his merry band were the movers and shakers of American politics — challenging the pervasive Liberal pieties, building coalitions, calling our country back to the noble cause of ordered liberty. So commanding was his presence on the national scene that, for almost thirty years, conservatism was, roughly speaking, what Bill Buckley said it was. And what he said it was, on occasion, defied belief. I confess that the first time we heard Bill — at the time a recent convert to fusionism — contend that we could weave a durable political fabric from the wispy strands of libertarianism, traditionalism and a strong defense policy, I considered the fusionist notion to be preposterous. But under his brilliant cultivation and behind his charismatic leadership, conservatism became at first a coherent political philosophy and somewhat later, a compelling political proposition.
Some of you may not be as familiar with the contributions made by our speaker today. You should be. When Ed Feulner was named president of the Heritage Foundation in 1977, it was a tiny policy shop with implausibly large ambition, housed in a rabbit warren of offices that stood no better than a 50-50 chance of passing fire inspection. Ed Feulner has realized that large ambition. Today from its base in Washington — in fine buildings bestriding the U.S. Capitol — Heritage is the most important conservative organization in the country and the most influential think tank in the world. It is a 24/7 force for the good and the true and, when it comes to government, for the small and the modest.
Ed Feulner’s ride at Heritage has been long and sweet, 35 years and counting, and was perhaps best described, if inadvertently, by our late friend, the essayist Christopher Hitchens. Early in his career, Hitchens was a man of the hard Left and he described the last sweet ride for international Leftism in the Seventies this way: “If you have never yourself had the experience of feeling that you are yoked to the great steam engine of history, then allow me to inform you that the conviction is a very intoxicating one.” Well, Ed Feulner has experienced that feeling. It may be no more than historical coincidence, but the great steam engine of conservative reform began to rumble at just about the time Ed Feulner assumed command at Heritage.
Ed channeled that force Hitchens spoke of, that surging ideological momentum. Ed has refined it, amplified it and transmitted it to an entire generation of scholars, journalists, activists and intellectual entrepreneurs — in other words, to what has become under his leadership the contemporary conservative movement. Beginning with its indispensable support for Ronald Reagan and continuing into the present season with its withering critique of Barack Obama, conservatism over much of the past thirty years has been, roughly speaking, what Heritage and Ed Feulner say it is. All of us who push back against the insidious creep of statism, not to mention those among us who cling atavistically to guns and to God, are in Ed Feulner’s debt.
As many of you know, a few months from now, Ed will be retiring from Heritage. He is doing our cause still another service by the graceful way in which he is departing. It was Ed Feulner who prodded the Heritage board to set up a formal succession process. It was Ed Feulner who pressed his colleagues to conduct a national search and to prepare for transition. We live in a time when too many of our leaders find excuses to stay too long: too many corporate executives, investment gurus, football coaches, Senators from Nevada. Ed Feulner is leaving Heritage at the top of its form and at the top of his.
Admitting to only a trace of hyperbole, I have described the selection of Heritage’s new CEO as the second-most important election in the country this year. We will know the name of the winner in just a few weeks. But we already know the name of the man who has made that job so prestigious, so powerful, so central to the future of our national enterprise.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable Edwin J. Feulner.