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The mighty influence of think tanks

by AirTalk®

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GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at an event hosted by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. TalkMediaNews/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

Tonight, CNN will broadcast the Republican candidates' national security debate. The event is co-sponsored by The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute – two conservative think tanks.

It provides a good chance for "AirTalk" to examine the role and influence of think tanks in the national dialogue and in creating public policy.

Historically, a handful of them were established early in the 20th century to produce analysis and research to assist government policymakers. Then in the 1970s and 1980s there was a little explosion on the think tank scene. Critics say they became more "tank" than "think" – pushing ideology rather than well-researched ideas.

These days, you’re just as likely to hear two competing think-tank experts on the airwaves battling over taxes, health-care and warfare as you are two lawmakers from either side of the aisle.


What is the ultimate goal of heavy-weight think tanks? Do they just add to a cacophony of poisoned politics? Or can their researchers contribute ideas isolated from politicking on the Hill? What are the risks and benefits of relying on them? Should their influence be kept in check? And is there a think tank for every political stripe?


James McGann, Director, Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania

Mike Gonzalez, Vice President, Communications, The Heritage Foundation

Faiz Shakir, Vice President, Center for American Progress and serves as Editor in Chief of Think -- a blog created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund

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