Crisis and Commitment

I had a hectic week last week–ten flights in seven days. But one of my travels was for pleasure, not business, as I spent the weekend in Palm Springs participating in the Koch brothers’ semi-annual seminar. It was my first visit to Palm Springs; compared to Minnesota in January, it was paradise–perfect temperatures and soft, dry desert air. If you’ve never been there, you should consider going:

The seminar was at the Renaissance Esmeralda, a beautiful resort. The food was even good!

This was the second time I have spoken at a Koch seminar; the first was around 2005. Maybe someone, somewhere puts on higher-quality events, but I am not sure who that would be. Last week’s seminar was titled Crisis and Commitment; it focused on the problems that now beset our nation and how they might best be addressed. What makes these events unique is not only their quality, but their seriousness. No time is wasted.

Last week’s event was a huge success, with the highest attendance ever. The commitment to principles of freedom that motivated not just the event’s hosts but all of the attendees was palpable. And, despite the seriousness of the crisis that confronts us, good humor prevailed at all times.

Peter Schweizer and I did a joint presentation on cronyism. Peter focused on political cronyism, e.g., the sweetheart stock deals that he detailed in his book Throw Them All Out. I targeted corporate cronyism, and talked about Solyndra, BrightSource, the auto bailouts, etc. I began by contrasting corporate cronyism with the more traditional–and far less damaging–public sector cronyism that focused on public employment and government contracts. Just for fun, here are the first two slides of my Power Point:

The Seychelles reference is to the fact that a major presidential donor may find himself an ambassador to a desirable spot if his candidate wins–perhaps the most benign form of cronyism. Corporate cronyism, in contrast, has the potential to distort and weaken the entire economy.

The guiding spirits of the event, of course, were Charles and David Koch. They couldn’t have been more gracious; I had the opportunity to chat with David a bit on the way in to dinner Sunday evening. The Kochs’ commitment to principle is both extraordinary and admirable. I think they exemplify as well as anyone the ideal of the citizen participant in democracy that the Founders envisioned.

I had hoped the crazed leftists would turn out to protest as they did a year ago, and I brought my Flip camera along in hopes of cross-examining one or two of them. But no such luck–they stayed away, probably because Andrew Breitbart made fools of them last year.

Flying in and out of the Palm Springs airport was fun, in part because it is a beautiful airport:

More important, the airport honors Sonny Bono with the Sonny Bono Concourse! I had forgotten that Palm Springs was the city of which Bono was mayor, in his first venture into politics. Some years ago, Sonny was the speaker at the annual dinner of the Freedom Club here in Minnesota. Scott introduced him. Bono had four different careers, as a singer/songwriter, an actor, a restauranteur and a politician, and he succeeded in all of them. That night, he gave one of the most entertaining speeches I have ever heard.

Bono was like the Koch brothers, in that in the first instance, he just wanted to go about his business. He was a musician, not a politician. But when he tired of being a guest on Fantasy Island–he held the record, as I recall, for such appearances, and in his Freedom Club speech he described sitting on a television lot in southern California while a drunken dwarf threatened him with a loaded pistol, and he decided that there must be more to life–he wanted to open a restaurant. He found that the city’s bureaucracy was so impenetrable that it was virtually impossible for him to put up a sign for his restaurant. After battling City Hall for a while, he ran for mayor–a classically American thing to do. I was pleased to learn from a taxi driver that Sonny Bono’s restaurant is still in business, although its founder is no longer with us.

So it was a fun weekend. I saw lots of old friends and made some new ones. While the times we live in are troubled at best, it is both endlessly rewarding and great fun to be part of the conservative movement.

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