After completing a term as the director of the National Economic Council, what does one do next?
For Keith Hennessey, the answer is starting a blog (among other things, of course). The fellow at the Hoover Institution and lecturer at the Graduate School of Business sat down with the Review to tell us about his new venture with the Hoover Institution and about life away from the District of Columbia.
The blog is called Advancing a Free Society (AFS), and it features commentary and interviews from fellows at the Stanford-based Hoover Institution. The goal, according to Hennessey, is to “take the knowledge and expertise at Hoover and present it to the world in a way that’s relevant.”
As of now, AFS features posts from a wide set of Hoover fellows, including economists John Taylor, Gary Becker, and Ed Lazear and political commentators Victor Davis Hanson and Bill Whalen. Although Hennessey emphasized that the blog is still in an experimental phase, he described the effort now as a “collection of ideas from people with different areas of expertise and perspectives.”
As Hennessey explained, the Hoover Institution faces a unique challenge: it must “influence policymakers from the other coast,” nearly 3,000 miles away. To reach its target audience of those interested in public policy, Hoover has had to become even more active in marketing and broadcasting its content. Hoover’s complete web presence includes a YouTube page, Twitter account, Facebook page, and a variety of individual blogs from many of its fellows. Hennessey sees AFS as the latest attempt to connect to the policy world more effectively and more often.
The idea for the blog began with discussions between Hennessey and Hoover Director John Raisian when Hennessey was considering returning to Stanford after his time at the White House had ended. When Hennessey arrived on campus in April, he and Hoover set about working on a design and a structure for the blog.
In October, the “firewall was lifted” and AFS went live. According to Hennessey, the site has received “a lot of attention” for some of its posts, and he expects continued growth in readership in the coming months.
When asked why he has chosen to devote significant time to the new blog, Hennessey emphasized the importance of AFS’s and Hoover’s commitment to substantive policy. He described himself as a “policy wonk at heart” and emphasized how “ideas are really, really important.” In contrast to the press, which too often focuses on “the horse race or the political back and forth,” Hennessey said that he was seeking to create a space for discussion of “very serious policy questions.”
Hennessey actually brings blogging experience with him, as he has already attempted to encourage such serious policy debate on his own blog at keithhennessey.com since early in 2009. The site features his thoughts on a variety of economic policy matters and has received significant attention for its explanations of how policy making happens within the White House.
When speaking about his own blogging and his work for Hoover, Hennessey expressed excitement with regard to the responses that he’d received from many of his readers. From his own blog work, he said he learned that “there are a lot of people willing to take the time to learn a topic in-depth – much more than you might see in a two or three minute blurb on the nightly news.” Although the “commercial press doesn’t have the incentive” to discuss policy in-depth, he and his colleagues at Hoover do. The role is one that Hennessey has embraced fully and described as “very personally rewarding.”
Blogging commitments, however, have only been one aspect of the former NEC director’s return to Stanford. He has also kept himself busy with teaching courses at the GSB. Hennessey expressed excitement about his return to the Farm: “I think that I’ll be out of DC for a while, and Stanford is a great place to be…. I’m honored that I have the opportunity both to do stuff at Hoover and that the law school and business school have allowed me to teach students. That’s really exciting.”