Free Lunch: Think Tank Fare Assessed

By Spencer Ackerman

aei_logo111Ever since the dawn of the blogosphere, there’s been a great deal of emphasis placed on the Cult of the Cocktail Party — that is, the supposedly all-consuming and all-corrupting social event in which journalists are absorbed into the Washington hivemind. Yet we at the IFA can report that journalists have far too much integrity to be purchased for a meager glass of white wine. In truth, journalists lose their souls not at cocktail parties but at think-tank lunches.

And for good reason. Entry-level journalism is a painfully unremunerative job, especially for one of the most expensive cities to live in. When I came to Washington I made $1200 per month and had a rent bill of $525. All of a sudden it’s 1 p.m. and all the downtown lunch places are offering are $8 salads. But wait — isn’t there a national-security forum near the Hill? And they’re serving… sandwiches? You now understand my career. Come for the tuna salad. Walk out with a three-page bullet-pointed white paper. You now have a full stomach and material to hit your deadline with.

Call it overstatement, but you can fairly decently judge a think tank’s influence by the quality of its lunch. Here I’m going to reveal an open secret in Washington. The best free lunch in town — by far — is at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. I remember a panel discussion on Iraq a couple years ago at which AEI wheeled out a massive amount of succulent, just-grilled chicken shwarma. Rice that had been seasoned. With almond slivers! The whole thing displayed a stunningly real Middle East expertise, or at least what a Washington Jew thinks passes for real Middle East expertise. And that is how you succeed in this town. Never mind that Dani Pletka and Michael Rubin and Michael Ledeen don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

We have some IFAers from the New America Foundation and the Center for American Progress. Are you ready for some straight talk, my friends? Ladies and gentlemen, you need to go back to your parent organizations and tell them to step their cook-game up. The CAP chicken-salad wraps? With mayo? From Corner Bakery or whatever-the-fuck? It’s at least partially responsible for the decline of liberalism in the age of Bush. With Barack Obama in place, now’s the time for progressive think-tanks to prepare a menu as ambitious as the first-term agenda.


8 responses to “Free Lunch: Think Tank Fare Assessed

  1. I’m a liberal who worked at the place, doing research at part of a now-defunct joint venture with the Brookings Institute. Let me just say, the lunches were as good as Spencer says, probably better. Four dollars, every day, when you worked there. They liked to say “socialist on the inside, libertarian on the outside.”

    Let’s just say the arguments these lunches fostered while at lunch were, well, me versus everybody else, and arguing from Judith Jarvis Thompson’s position on abortion to a table full of pro-lifers was very fun.

  2. Pingback: Free Lunch: CAP Responds « The Internet Food Association

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  4. This sounds exactly like being a college/grad student.

  5. Does this explain why I saw Ezra Klein asking a question at a CSPAN 2 Book TV event recorded at AEI several months back?

  6. Pingback: Not-Exactly-Free Lunch But Still: The Brookings Cafeteria « The Internet Food Association

  7. Is it true about the AEI cafeteria’s chocolate chip cookies, that they’re the best in creation, or is that a social-conservative urban legend?

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