Play by Play from 2009 Club for Growth Conference

The dinner event began with Robert Levy, the Chairman of the Board of the CATO Institute, and author of the new Dirty Dozen, a fascinating analysis of twelve Supreme Court decisions that have forever changed our country. I read the book over the weekend because, let’s face it, I am easily sold. Bob is a champion – a wealthy, self-made man, who cares more for his country and the principles he knows it was founded on, than anything else. The speech was invigorating, convicting, and needed. We have seen the evolution of a court over the last 75 years that has forever changed the landscape of the nation. It is time we all take this more seriously.

Gov. Sanford was the keynote speaker, and I thought the talk was a bit dull. He was tired, I suppose, but he also was right about every single thing he said. “You have to be willing to lose in politics. We are not here to ‘stay in the game’. We have to stay true to our principles. We are part of a movement – not a transaction.” We are, indeed, far past the notion of engaging a particular “transaction”. I may not have been blown away with his speech, but I sure wish he was my Governor.

Friday morning began with an inspiring talk from Pat Toomey, the club President. In addition to providing us with a series of facts about what the club is doing and where we are spending our money, Pat announced his intention to run against Arlen Specter for the GOP nomination in 2010 for the U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. I believe this primary battle is going to be a war, and I believe Pat will win it. I intend to support him tooth and nail, and make 2010 the year that fake Republicans are removed from office. Specter has been there long enough; it is time to change the status quo. Pat also believes that Harry Reid in Nevada and Chris Dodd in Connecticut represent two very winnable seats for the Republican party. We do not yet have a high profile nominee, but these two guys are very vulnerable. Exciting stuff.

Next on the docket was a remarkable panel featuring op-ed genius Deroy Murdock, pollster phenomena Kellyanne Conway, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, and Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich. Deroy was the first person on the right I have heard say that the GOP needs to publicly and profoundly distance itself from Karl Rove. Deroy shares my belief that the real disaster of the Bush administration was not Iraq, but rather education and Medicare spending. Karl Rove was the brainchild behind those disasters, so therefore we should separate ourselves from Karl Rove. It is hard to disagree. Kellyanne pointed out that Obama beat McCain by 44% with unmarried women. There is something drastically wrong with the Republican party’s ability to reach women voters, and this has got to change. She also pointed out that the largely entrepreneurial Asian community has begun voting Democrat (Bush Sr. won by 28%; Dole only won by 1%; Obama beat McCain by 33%). This is mysterious, and in need of further evaluation. John Fund told us that we have been here before, and all is not lost. John is a brilliant writer, a prolific analyst, and a special ally in our fight for freedom. He highlighted the Terry McAuliffe race in Virginia (Terry is running for Governor in a state he has barely ever been to), and the John Corzine race in New Jersey, as two high profile races that Republicans can win, and better win.

No economics conference is complete without a few economists, and the next panel did not disappoint. Dr. Richard Vedder, Dr. Richard Rahn, and Ron Muhlenkamp led us through a discussion of the current calamity that is present fiscal policy. They cited “cap and trade” and “card check” as two of the most dangerous agenda items of the Obama administration. Dr. Vedder is pure genius, with one foot in the Austrian school and another foot in the Chicago school (a stance that yours truly also shares). To hear these three heavyweights lay out in plain English how the current monetary policy is inherently inflationary, and how present fiscal policy is very likely stagflationary, was both frightening, and inspiring. I truly wish high school students today were forced to learn economic from these brilliant men.

Dick Armey was our lunch time speaker, and he was absolutely incredible. A few verbatim highlights:

– “I know I will disappoint you Randians here but in addition to being a real market conservative, I am a committed Christian. And what the Lord God did on the cross is what defines me and I take it more seriously than anything. I can’t discuss economics or liberty apart from faith. They are all intertwined.”

– “When God says He created order out of chaos, I see a rationale for markets. Hayek’s theory of price, and appreciation for price is the key to understanding all economics.”

– “What Keynesians do is far, far worse than what Keynes did.”

– “The division of labor means minding your own business. In private markets we do not have time to muck around in other people’s affairs.”

– “Children, thieves, and politicians are the only three groups who get to spend other people’s money. They all require adult supervision.”

– “When Keynes talked about deficits vs. surplus he presupposed a STARTING point of balance – of equilibrium. He did not mean to run a 750bn deficit, AND THEN add another 750bn on top. But the politicization of this means Obama has to come in and do two things, no matter how stupid, how dangerous, and how irresponsible they are: (1) Show that he “cares”, and (2) Show that he is “doing something”

– “Markets haven’t failed. Governments have failed. The lack of restraint is their inability to mind their own business. A manipulation of monetary policy violates markets.”

– “If you believe that your government has a duty from the Lord your God to protect you then start demanding it. They took an oath to honor the Constitution. Start demanding it.”

Gov. Rick Perry is going to be a star in the Republican Party. His charisma and pro-growth message is contagious. During these recessionary times the things states like California does are a huge benefit to Texas – they cut taxes and ease regulation during times like this while other states are slamming businesses. I have to say that hearing his talk made me think about hiring a real estate agent in Texas.

The free trade panel Friday afternoon encapsulated all that I love about the Club for Growth. Deeply ideological yet equally practical, this panel was gospel to those of us who recognize free trade for what it is: the greatest engine for economic growth and prosperity in the last 250 years. Dr. David Henderson of the Hoover Institute pointed out that charging a tariff on one country’s imports just because they charge a tariff on ours is like shooting holes in a boat just because the other guy in the boat is shooting holes. It doesn’t make any sense. Dr. Sallie James of Cato pleaded for us to quit using the word “protectionism”. She said it gave a certain benign feeling to the concept that it did not deserve. She encouraged us to start loudly declaring that “if you oppose free trade, you support world poverty.” Amen.

Steve Lonegan is the very personification of New Jersey grit. He has taken on the unions, taken on the special interest groups, and now is going to take on Jon Corzine, the corrupt Governor of New Jersey who is doing his very best to ruin the Garden State. Lonegan is a true iconoclast, fighting power where it needs to be fought. He challenges eminent domain, challenges public employee pension abuses, and he wins. I intend to support his campaign to be elected the next Governor of New Jersey, and I hope you will too.

Our Friday evening dinner began with a brief talk from Jack Fowler, the publisher of the greatest magazine on the planet, National Review. The keynote speaker was Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, the only member of the U.S. Senate who received a 100% score on the Club for Growth’s voting report card. He pointed out that Obama’s plan raises the amount of people paying no income tax from 38% to 50%, creating the most dangerous moral issue I can even imagine. Half of the population receiving everything and giving nothing. “Freedom is not merely a ‘political philosophy’ for me,” he said, “it is the foundation of my entire belief system.”

Saturday morning opened up with a spectacular panel of Congressmen (and one Congresswoman). Marsha Blackburn, who is the only member of the House of Representatives to receive a 100% score from CFG, along with Orange County’s own Ed Royce (Barney Frank’s #1 foe), and Jeb Hensarling of Texas came to tell us what the House Republicans are doing, and how they are doing it. The next major move for economic prosperity will comes if Ed is successful in getting a vote on the House floor to suspend the Draconian mark-to-market accounting rules that are doing massive damage to our company’s financial infrastructure. I spoke to Ed at length privately after the panel, and was blown away at his command of this issue. He is, of course, completely correct on the issue, and I am growing more confident that he will be successful. All members of the panel were outstanding.

Sen. Jon Kyl came next, and as always, he was tremendous. He and DeMint really are the most conservative Senators we have, and Jon is an outstanding American. He decimated the income disparity arguments of the far left, pointing out that 40% of all taxes are paid by the top 2% of income earners, even though they only make 22% of the national income. He is 100% correct in his insistence that “cap and trade” be called what it really is: “cap and tax” – in fact, it is a $600 billion tax on the middle class.

Bjorn Lamborg deserves to be “googled”. He tore Al Gore’s ridiculous Inconvenient Truth to shreds, and laid out a comprehensive critique of Kyoto, and most of the statist trends in environmental policy.

And then there was Steve Forbes – the lunchtime speaker Saturday, and my personal favorite of the whole trip. He blasted the idea that oil executives deserved to be maligned.

– “How funny is the notion that these ‘evil oil executives’ are to be villainized. For 130 years they didn’t know how to manipulate markets, but then they figured it out, and have since completely forgot. Wow.”

– “The monetary policy of 2000-2004 created this fiasco. The government policy with Fannie and Freddie teamed up with the mistakes of the Fed to produce this extraordinary disaster.”

– “Mark to market” has turned a disaster into a catastrophe.

– “Bush’s people never figured out that their weak dollar policy was not helping our trade imbalance and it was simultaneously ruining the economy.”

– “If we had “mark to market” in the early 90’s we would have collapsed the entire financial system.”

– “The repeal of the uptick rule, combined with a lack of enforcement on naked short selling, has been a total disaster.”

I spoke to him afterwards extensively and I am just blown away at his command of the issues. He is an American hero, a real ideologue, and a tremendous patriot. He was unbelievably personable, and he gave me huge insights to the role that the short-selling community is playing in trying to ruin our country.

Ken Blackwell should be the chairman of the Republican National Committee. His biography is unbelievable, and his understanding of the moral foundation of freedom is unmatched. He is a rare combination of faith and intellect; of virtue and ideology. I am honored to know him, and hope he will have a huge role in the future of the Republican Party. His talk laid out the things the Obama administration is doing to usurp liberty. He challenged us to fight card check, to fight the White House taking authority of the national censes from the commerce department, and to resist the “fairness doctrine” (what he properly calls the “censorship doctrine”).

The panel with Tom McClintock, Doug Lamborn, and Steve King was remarkable. Steve King laid out his defense of the “fair tax” as a replacement to a national income tax (an argument I am finding increasingly compelling). Tom and Doug represent the very best of what the Club for Growth can do – two candidates that the Club financially supported through IE’s, and got into office despite overwhelming odds against it. The battle lines are being drawn now for the next fight on the floor of the Capitol Building – Obama’s proposed budget. These men are ready to fight.

Nick Tucker’s film documentary “Do as I Say” is absolutely hysterical, and this guy has a huge, huge future as a filmmaker. More details to follow.

Mitt Romney’s nighttime speech was mediocre at best, but he did share some nuggets of wisdom. He proposed that “stimulus” should rebuild the armament. Why not stimulate the economy in spending on the only legitimate function of the state? (defense and military). The present administration is clearly going the other direction.

He surprised the audience when he said he agreed with TARP, and reiterated the administration line that without it, the financial system of our globe would have collapsed. I have become increasingly unconvinced.

All things considered, Mitt’s speech was mediocre. Having Kudlow close the event last year, my expectations were too high for the grand finale. But he is a handsome guy. I wish I could get my hair to look like that. And his suits are perfect. =)

He took a lot of flak from some very courtesy-challenged members of the audience about his Massachusetts health insurance bill. He handled it well and I gained respect for him.

I talked late into the evening with Tom McClintock, Deroy Murdock (who is 20 years older than he looks), Nick Tucker, and several others. It was as much fun as I have had in years. These people are a special brotherhood – a community of intellectual freedom lovers who believe in the rule of law, and the dignity of the human being. They reject statism, and instead embrace a philosophy of freedom – a philosophy that is totally captured in the founders’ believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I am privileged to consider these men and women my friends, and I urge any of you who have the resources to consider supporting the Club for Growth. They are truly standing on the mountain-top, screaming “stop”.