Profiles in Liberty: Eli Lehrer
Since its formation in June of last year, R Street Institute has seen tremendous growth and certainly much of that growth can be credited to Eli Lehrer who is the president and co-founder.
Although Lehrer loves his role in the liberty movement now, it wasn’t an expected outcome for him. Lehrer grew up in a left-wing household and considered himself liberal or progressive right through his senior year of college. At the behest of Karl Zinsmeister, who was the editor for American Enterprise Institute’s magazine and later, domestic policy advisor to the second Bush administration, Lehrer came to Washington and began working as a reporter for a Washington Times affiliated magazine. With the work came changing beliefs, “I honestly never really set out to have a career in the liberty movement, although it turns out I’ve loved having one.”
This success has not always been easy, however. Lehrer says that one of the chief challenges that he has faced has come from his transition from a journalist to a manager. “The biggest challenge was realizing that my role is different. As a scholar or think tank activist, a fair part of your job is really to promote yourself and build a personal brand, but as a leader one of my most important jobs is to promote the people who work for me and to make sure they succeed.” Lehrer says that to do this, he had to acquire some new skills and refine ones that he had.
Doing something that was intellectually challenging and important always appealed to Lehrer and his role at R Street certainly fits the bill. In his time there he has seen many threats to liberty but Lehrer says that the current state of the conservative movement itself is a threat to liberty. “Although the left’s solutions to almost all problems are awful, we as a movement, have not done nearly enough to advance positive, principled conservative alternatives to them.” Lehrer says that the healthcare debate has been a perfect example of this: where the left has proposed an awful solution and the right’s only response has been to say, “No!” but without advancing any of their own ideas. This practice, he says, will inevitably lead to a continued diminishing of liberty.
Lehrer does offer three pieces of advice for young professionals: “First, learn to write well. You probably aren’t that good of a writer even if you think you are. Good writers are always in demand. Learn to become one. Second, don’t assume people who disagree with you have sinister motives. They rarely do. Most liberals do think they are doing the right thing. Remember that even when people act out of bad motives they are typical common human weaknesses like a desire for money or fame rather than some sinister master plan. Third, stay busy. As a general rule you will get more done if you take on more projects. Don’t be afraid to do so.”
According to Lehrer, America’s Future Foundation has been incredibly beneficial in his career. “AFF enabled me to meet people from all corners of the liberty movement and build my personal network better and faster than I could have by other means. I’m still in close touch with many friends who I made through AFF.”
Given R Street’s quick growth the future of the organization seems bright. “R Street’s success is due in large part to the organization’s great staff. I honestly think we’ve brought together the best team in D.C. Our plans are to continue our growth and provide the real, forward thinking, solutions and vision for limited, effective government that conservatives seem to have forgotten. We’re not going to be quiet.”
Rick Barton is an intern with America’s Future Foundation and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo.