William Baroody

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'William Baroody (1916 - 1980), was a leading conservative activist and head of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Baroody was born in Manchester, N.H., the son of Joseph Assad Baroody, an immigrant Lebanese stonecutter, and Helen Hasney. The parents were of Arab origins but Catholic religion. Baroody attended parochial schools and St. Anselm's College (BA 1936). In 1935 he married Nabeeha Marion Ashooh; they had seven children.

He did some graduate study at the University of New Hampshire and at American University in Washington. From 1937 to 1944, Baroody worked as a statistician in state government. In 1944-45 he was a lieutenant in the Navy. After the war he became a statistician at the Veterans Administration in Washington, but moved to the United States Chamber of Commerce, where he was their specialist on Social Security 1950-53. In 1954, Baroody became executive vice-president of the American Enterprise Association; it was a small public policy research organization had been founded by Lewis Herold Brown in 1943.

As the sons of immigrants Baroody saw America as a land of opportunity, and at the Chamber of Commerce he learned that "competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society." He rejected the statism of the New Deal, fearing the growth of governmental regulation and bureaucracy and the centralization of power in Washington. He soon signed up young, brilliant conservative economists including Milton Friedman, Gottfried Haberler, Paul W. McCracken, and Glenn Campbell. In 1962, Baroody became president of the association and changed its name to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (‘’’AEI’’).

Patient and low-keyed, Baroody had a knack for bringing together people with ideas. As William F. Buckley wrote, "he combined a gentleness of manner with a resolution of purpose and a conciliator's good nature." As head of AEI, Baroody helped to bring conservative ideas into the national public policy debate and helped achieve a new level of acceptance for views that had not previously been taken seriously by government and the media.

A devout member of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Baroody held family values and religion to be particularly important issues and made them the focus of studies at his institute. He believed that the debate on the legitimacy of the free enterprise system was about more than economics, and as a result, AEI paid more attention to religious thought and political theory than did comparable research centers more concerned with economics.

AEI, a tax exempt charitable institution, grew in size and influence under Baroody's leadership. He was a systematic fund-raiser, growing his budget from $115,000 in 1954 to $266,000 in 1960, thanks to corporate donors such as Allen Bradley, General Electric and Eli Lilly, as well as the Pew and Scaife families, among many others. By the late 1970s he had an annual budget of $8 million and about 125 staff employees. He provided ideas needed by such national conservative leaders as Barry Goldwater, Richard M. Nixon, and Gerald R. Ford. He brought tot the AEI such powerful figures as Melvin Laird, Bryce Harlow, Arthur Burns, Herbert Stein, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Ben Wattenberg. AEI scholars strongly supported free markets; opposed Communism; they favored market solutions instead of the use of government power. By 1980 AEI was the conservative counterpart of the older, more liberal Brookings Institution. Both provided staging points for new ideas and resting points for politicians out of office. Robert H. Bork praised AEI because it helped conservatives like himself who were “intellectually isolated, even beleaguered, on their own campuses.”

Baroody was a founder of Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in 1962, a member of the board of overseers at the Hoover Institution from 1960 to 1980, and chairman of the board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from 1972 to 1979. In 1978, Baroody was succeeded as president of AEI by his son William J. Baroody, Jr., and became chairman of AEI's development committee, a post he retained until his death.

While many pundits were bemoaning American decline in the late 1970s, Baroody held was optimistic. Liberal scholar James MacGregor Burns credited Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980 in part to the success of conservative efforts "to build their intellectual case and to use invigorated and broadened conservative ideas as vehicles to political power." AEI scholars who served in the Reagan administration included Murray Weidenbaum (chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers), Jeane Kirkpatrick (ambassador to the United Nations), James Miller (chairman of the Federal Trade Commission), and David Gergen (director of communications).

Reagan’s eulogy proclaimed, "One of Bill Baroody's greatest accomplishments was in building an institution that said, 'Here is a place where you can develop your ideas,' that said to others, 'Here is a place you can turn to for advice,' that said to all of us who were concerned about our country's future, 'You are not alone.' "

Further reading

  • Abelson, Donald E. A Capitol Idea: Think Tanks and US Foreign Policy‎ (2006) 367 pages