The spring 2010 issue of The City, published by Houston Baptist University (where Robert Sloan, the former president of Baylor, now presides), includes an interview with AEI President Arthur Brooks. Brooks's answers are much more interesting, candid, and, perhaps "off-message" than one would expect from the president of a right-leaning DC think tank.
First, Brooks has absorbed a central truth: the concerns, and the rhetoric, of the Reagan generation often come across as either irrelevant or weirdly disconnected from reality to the post-Reagan generation, especially to those who aren't true believers. Example:
We can't respond to the whole global warming thing by just saying "it's just a hoax." It becomes the old guy commenting on the newfangled, not understanding -- not taking the time and energy to say, "Look, we understand the concern, but there's a problem with the execution. Statism is a natural answer to your concern, but it is not going to get you where you want to go. There's nothing wrong with where you want to go, which is proper stewardship of the environment of our planet. That's actually a good thing -- it's good Christianity. It's proper theology. It's well-ordered thinking."
But the problem is that the statist approach to fixing it probably won't fix it, and it will have consequences. The wrong way to talk about that is to say: "They're just trying to pull the wool over your eyes." Which, in a way, denigrates the entire basis of the next generation's concerns.
Later, he frames the question of promoting "free enterprise" not around spurring economic growth but around the question of human happiness, which he says hinges on "earned success":
How do you earn success? The answers come many ways. You don't do it by earning money; that's just a symbol. You do it by actually creating value in your life and the lives of others, and that means that we should be assiduous in America, about finding ways to help people earn their success. And that means being as respectful of staying home and taking care of your children, as it is about volunteer work, as it is about being an ethical, moral investment banker who picks up a great big check.
We should be all about earned success, not all about money. And if we do that, you know, that's the traditional American promise. That's the nature of localism, of a bespoke life. . . .
And of authentic civil society. The entire interview can be found here.
On a semi-related note, in the Sunday NYT Book Review, reviewer Barry Gewen bizarrely refers, in passing, to AEI's "libertarianism." Huh? Later, he identifies William F. Buckley Jr. as an "arch-paleoconservative." With all the ink spilled over the last few years about conservatism's camps, you'd think the Book Review (edited by Buckley biographer Sam Tanenhaus!) could at least get the labels right.