I’m back from Sweden. While North Carolina was suffering from 95+ degree heat, we were struggling to get above 70 degrees. At some point, I’d love to spend summers there. For now, I’ll take what I can get.

While the landscape, the climate, and the culture were much different, the concerns and conversations were not. Gas prices in Sweden have reached over nine dollars a gallon. Inflation is driving up the cost of everything and families are feeling pinched as their paychecks don’t stretch as far as they once did. And if you think we’re unsettled by Russia’s aggression, talk to a Swede. 

So when Amy O. Cooke, CEO of the recently reconfigured Locke Foundation, posted a tweet blaming Biden’s policies for the rising gas prices, I shot back. I understand that the person in the White House gets blamed for a lot of things beyond their control, but the John Locke Foundation used to be a think tank, not a partisan tool. Today, the organization has devolved into little more than hackery with a CEO who spends too much time on Twitter and too little time developing conservative ideas. 

When the John Locke Foundation first came on the scene, Art Pope based his operation on the Heritage Foundation. The organization stayed out of the fray of partisan politics while pushing conservative ideas into the mainstream. I thought most of their ideas were bad for North Carolina and I still do, but John Hood, the co-founder and first president of JLF, spent most of his energy making a case for a conservative agenda to opinion leaders and politicians on both sides of the aisle. 

While JLF maintained its relatively staid roots, Pope developed Civitas to be the more aggressively partisan organization. Locke developed the ideas and made the case in newspapers, periodicals, at seminars, and in university classrooms, Civitas took the fight to the campaign arena. The division gave Locke credibility to cross party lines. 

As much as I’ve disagreed with them and even been angered by their ideas, there was a beauty in what Art Pope and John Hood built. They saw the future and helped shape it. They imagined a conservative government in North Carolina when few people could. They established a government-in-waiting based on conservative principles and ideas. They later built a political arm to help with GOP messaging and campaigns, but JLF always stayed just above the fray, trying to win the argument instead of just the election.

What’s happened to the Locke Foundation is part of what’s wrong with our politics today. The merger of JLF and Civitas shows that tribalism, not ideas, has won. Cooke is not an intellectual or thought leader. She’s a partisan hack, scoring points on Twitter instead of promoting intriguing, if mostly wrong-headed, ideas. At a time when we need people with the political courage to stand up to extremes, the Locke Foundation is offering cover to Trumpists and others who have largely destroyed the conservative movement in favor of reactionary populism. While they could have used their influence to defend conservative principles like the rule of law and respect for institutions, they are pandering to the GOP’s ignorant base to keep them both ignorant and angry.  What a shame.

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