Cal Thomas: Heritage Foundation's new president breaks two glass ceilings

Hillary Clinton was supposed to break the glass ceiling, which she said has kept a woman from becoming president, but the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think tank based in Washington, D.C., has actually done it.

Their new president is Kay Coles James, a female, an African-American and a conservative, who fits no one’s mold. While her background is formidable — former director of the Office of Personnel Management, Virginia secretary of Health and Human Resources, and dean of Regent University’s School of Government among other accomplishments — her vision is even more compelling.

Perhaps that is because she agrees with me on the issue of liberating poor and minority children from failing public schools and building a foundation that will give them a better future.

In a telephone interview, James tells me school choice for these kids is one of her “top priorities.” The left has tried and failed to improve the lives of African-Americans through government programs. As Donald Trump said during the 2016 presidential campaign, why not try a different approach? President Trump has also placed welfare reform as a top priority in 2018. The last time it was tried, under Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, it succeeded. As president of Heritage, James can give Trump the intellectual and factual resources to make further reforms and achieve this and other goals.

Winning an argument is preferable to destroying one’s opponent. It can also produce better results.

A return to the intellectual heft of William F. Buckley Jr. and outgoing Heritage president Edwin Feulner is much needed in a conservative movement that has been hijacked by nastiness and anger. Winning an argument is preferable to destroying one’s opponent. It can also produce better results. James’ inaugural address” hit just the right tone: “Heritage has always promoted economic growth and opportunity — and why it has never wavered in opposing those who would burden our freedoms and future with the suffocating force of mindless regulations and punitive taxes.”

Who opposes growth and opportunity? The debate has been over how to get there. History shows which ideas worked and which failed.

“Success in politics is about issues, ideas and the vision we have for our country in the world,” James said. George H.W. Bush dismissed “the vision thing,” but “Without a vision the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)

For liberals who might accuse James of being insufficiently black because of her conservatism, let them respond to this: “When I was 12 years old, I started attending an all-white middle school. To say we weren’t welcome is an understatement. Despite the Supreme Court’s Brown versus Board of Education ruling, Virginia Democrats insisted on keeping the public schools segregated.

“So 25 incredibly brave black kids and I tried to change that. For a while, navigating the packed hallways meant being jeered at, stuck with pins, shoved, and even kicked down the stairs. I see it on your faces — yes, it was awful. But it was worth it. You see, I’d been given a great gift — the opportunity to fight for something I believed in. And it changed me forever.”

When a conservative favorably quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. you might expect a new day may be coming for the conservative moment. James noted King’s remarks the day before he was murdered 50 years ago: “We have an opportunity to make America a better nation … to make America what it ought to be.”

That is an ongoing and never-ending quest, but James, whom I have known for several decades, will do it with a cheerful spirit, a confidence based on ideas that have proved their worth and a charm that can disarm her most ardent critics.

That’s a pretty good package that offers an opportunity to retreat from battling each other’s personalities, integrity and patriotism and instead focus on the best ideas that will improve any American who embraces them.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America". Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.

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