A Few Words of Gratitude for the Hoover Institution

This week I’ll leave the Hoover Institution, my professional home for the last few years. And because I am leaving with a heart full of gratitude for the institution and my colleagues, I want to take a moment to say “thanks.” This place, which I’ve admired for so long, changed my life. I will be forever indebted.

The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace has no peers in the worlds of academia or public policy, precisely because it lives in both of those worlds. It was founded 100 years ago, by Herbert Hoover, to be part of his beloved Stanford University but with a prudent measure of independence from the university’s day-to-day control. Today, having grown from its initial library and archives to also include a full public policy research organization, the Hoover Institution is without a doubt the nation’s most scholarly “think tank.” And it also is the nation’s best example of how policy can be both studied and advocated from within a university.

And this year, amid its centennial celebrations, the Hoover Institution finds itself in a singular position for yet another reason. With century-deep roots in what’s now Silicon Valley, but also with a recently established office in Washington, the Hoover Institution is singularly well suited to serve as a bridge between Silicon Valley and Washington at the moment when the two cities’ relationship is the most important political issue of our time. I often say that Hoover’s DC office is the institution’s “embassy” in Washington; in fact, the same can be said of its headquarters: the Hoover Institution at Stanford is the conservative policy world’s embassy in Silicon Valley.

And for those reasons, the next few years could be among the most important in the institution’s entire history. And the institution’s leadership and scholars face the future with the generous support of those who are making possible not just the institution’s beautiful new Traitel Building, but also soon another beautiful building named in honor of George Shultz. Few institutions are blessed with such resources and support, to be invested at the very moment when the institution has the opportunity to play a central role in a generational turn of events.

The Hoover Institution’s beautiful campus today.

Of course, that all makes it even harder for me to leave. As I cheer on my Hoover colleagues and the institution, I will be very sorry not to be a part of their crucial moment myself.

When I joined the Hoover Institution almost four years ago, it was nothing less than a dream come true. It’s a story I’ve recounted often, maybe too often. Growing up in eastern Iowa, near President Hoover’s birthplace and presidential library, the Hoover Institution was the first “think tank” that I ever heard of. I’d often read Hoover publications in my college apartment; that’s where I’d watch Peter Robinson’s “Uncommon Knowledge,” too. When I visited Stanford Law School to kick the tires on a legal education, my first question to the admissions counselor was, “do Stanford law students ever work as Hoover research assistants?” (She sighed and replied, “yeah, we have some of those.”) Even after attending another law school out east, and then pursuing a legal career, I still would read Hoover’s publications—and even its sort-of-annual reports—as often as possible.

As my family settled comfortably into Washington fifteen years ago, it never occurred to me that I might someday be part of the west coast’s Hoover Institution myself. But five years ago, to my happy surprise, Hoover announced the opening of a new DC office. I became acquainted with the Hoover team as they prepared to launch the office, and eventually they reached out to me to invite me to join as a fellow.

The experience proved even better than I expected. I became a colleague to many of the scholars whom I most admire, not just in law but also in the fields of political philosophy, history, and economics. I got to spend days and weeks on Stanford’s campus, chatting with them, learning from them, and arguing with them.

And Hoover gave me countless opportunities within the institution. I had the daunting honor of addressing Hoover’s Board of Overseers and other supporters at events on campus and around the country. In the Washington office, I had the pleasure of not just researching and writing, but also helping to build the office’s footprint in DC, by hosting discussions with Senators, scholars, and other assorted thinkers and policymakers. I had the honor of being invited to Hoover’s stunning Annenberg Conference Room, to brief George Shultz and leading figures in energy policy on the current state of energy and environmental regulation; and the honor of standing on the stage in Hoover’s beautiful new Hauck Auditorium, to give talks on the state of the Supreme Court, among other things. The Hoover team was incredibly generous to give me these opportunities.

Perhaps the most fun of all was the podcast that Hoover’s team invited me to host with Richard Epstein. We called it “Reasonable Disagreements.” (I liked to joke about the title, “I’m reasonable; he disagrees.”) If you know Richard Epstein, then you know what a daunting but fun experience it all was. I can’t thank Richard enough for partnering with me on it.

I could go on and on. (I already have, I suppose.) But the point of all of this is to say “thank you,” one last time, to the Hoover Institution—to its leadership team, its scholars, its indefatigable staff, and its Overseers and other immensely generous supporters. The years that I got to spend in the Hoover Institution changed my life. I am so hopeful for Hoover in the years to come, and so heavyhearted not to be part of it anymore. Thank you, my friends and colleagues, for making me part of it.

I’m a resident scholar at AEI, and a law professor at George Mason University, directing the law school’s Gray Center for the Study of the Administrative State.