- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The elegantly decorated room buzzes with young Washingtonians in business attire, chatting amiably beneath a glittering chandelier as they munch on tortilla chips and drink beer from bottles and wine from plastic cups.

On New Hampshire Avenue, a short walk from Dupont Circle, a Wednesday evening in April finds an assortment of twenty- and thirtysomethings socializing on the second floor of the Fund for American Studies.

It may look like a lot of other Washington parties, but this gathering of young political operatives, government employees, think-tank staffers and writers — ostensibly on hand for a discussion of monetary policy — is actually more than meets the eye, says David Kirby.

This is the future of America, and Mr. Kirby’s in charge of it.

The 28-year-old is executive director of the America’s Future Foundation, a group dedicated to developing “the next generation of conservative and libertarian leaders,” he says.

AFF events like this one, billed as “It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby: The Great Inflation Debate,” are a major part of the organization’s work, combining policy discussions with meet-and-mingle opportunities.

“It’s the only game in town for anything like this,” says Sean Higgins, a longtime AFF member and Washington correspondent for Investors Business Daily. “This is the only genuine open debate in this sort of informal setting.”

Nearby are two economists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sadie Blanchard, 26, and Diana Gehlhaus, 24.

“I have always been interested in policy issues,” says Miss Blanchard, who began attending AFF events two years ago. “I don’t work in policy, so it’s good to hear about topics I wouldn’t hear about and to be around people who are really smart.”

This is the first AFF event for Miss Gehlhaus.

“These kinds of debates are good and get different ideas out there,” she says. “It’s important to have these kinds of events because these issues affect people, whether they like it or not.”

AFF events are “about linking people up, introducing interesting people to other interesting people,” says Robert Schrum, 24, a writer for Keybridge Communications who serves as AFF’s deputy director of membership.

Theround-table discussions on the second Wednesday of each month — AFF’s May event is at 6:30 p.m. today — are more than merely a social scene, says J.P. Freire, who edits the “Brainswash” blog at the foundation’s Web site (AmericasFuture.org).

“It’s not just networking, because that’s shallow,” says Mr. Freire, who has written for such magazines as Reason and the American Spectator. “It’s actual mentorship. … There’s nothing else like this.”

In addition to its Web site, AFF also publishes members’ writing in a quarterly journal, DoubleThink.

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