“This is a place that likes new ideas and big ideas,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter in her first address to staff upon being named President of the New America Foundation.
Having served on the New America board, Slaughter said she has always been a big fan of the organization, but that the idea of taking on another job in Washington, away from her home and tenure in Princeton, was quite daunting when the search committee first approached her. In the end, though, Slaughter says she decided to follow the advice she always offers students: “Do what you want to do.”
Slaughter told staff that she had agreed to be president on one condition: “That we be ambitious.”
She reflected about the differences between academia and government. In the former setting, the highest rewards go to those who can come up with big ideas and have their name attached to them. Conversely, “in Washington, you take big ideas and turn them into bite-sized ideas, and try to convince others that these were their ideas in the first place.”
The important role of think tanks like New America is to serve as a hybrid of that model, “coming up with big ideas, connecting the academy and other institutes to the policy process, and doing what I think is really missing in the policy debate – finding the big ideas that are just over the political horizon.”
The non-partisan, independent nature of New America, Slaughter added, means this is a place that is driven by the power of those ideas, not their political valence. The fact that New America, despite its recent growth, isn’t weighted down by decades of history and tradition also made this an appealing opportunity – to design the ideal 21st Century think tank, rather than preserve a 20th Century one.
Before she starts as president on Sept. 1, she plans to finish up an ambitious project of her own: a book that reframes and broadens the work-family balance debate. She sparked a national conversation on the subject with her cover story last summer in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”
“It’s not a woman’s debate,” she explained. “It’s not even a debate about family per se. It is a much broader debate about breadwinners and caregivers, and how we systematically disadvantage caregivers and caregiving. “
This is a timely subject Slaughter will continue to pursue at New America, and she noted that there are few other places where she could combine her longstanding foreign policy scholarship with her more recent immersion in the societal debate around work-family balance.
All that said, Slaughter did acknowledge that leaving Princeton did have one major downside: “My dad is feeling really ancient at having a daughter who’s a Professor Emerita.”
Read more: Dr. Slaughter, named one of the top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy, weighs in on the pressing challenges facing America and the world through her regular column on Project Syndicate and occasional articles for publications such as Foreign Policy. Watch her explain how Twitter plays a critical role in diplomacy and foreign policy here. Read the press release here.