Originally posted March 5, 2012.
Debbie and I were visiting West Palm Beach’s Anne Norton Sculpture Garden with fellow attendees at Cato Institute’s February Benefactor summit. It turns out that Debbie’s mom had stayed there when a good friend of hers from Newport had been curator for the Sculpture Garden a few years ago. Small world, is it not? On the tour with us was Andrei Illarionov, who I was much looking forward to hearing speak at the Cato Summit the next day.
Andrei spoke on “American Adversaries Big and Small.” Attendees were quickly informed that the word to use in Russia is not election, rather it is selection. And unlike what is frequently portrayed in the media, the selection of a Russian president is hardly free and fair. In 2005, Illarionov, who had assumed office as senior economic advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2000, was the central figure in introducing the 13% flat income tax in Russia. Unfortunately In 2006, conditions in Russia had deteriorated to the point that Andrei no longer considered Russia to be a democratic or free country. The following year, Mr. Illarionov joined Cato.
Andrei is one of 34 first signatories of the online anti-Putin manifesto “Putin Must Go.” After his excellent Cato presentation and rousing thank you from a jam-packed ballroom, I was able to spend a few minutes with a most gracious, warm and open Andrei Illarionov. I asked if he could come and go freely today from Russia and whether he and Mr. Putin were likely to get together for lunch on a visit to his homeland. I got a smile on my first question and another smile and a shake of the head no, not surprisingly, on my second question. I asked if Vladimir would win the up coming “selection.” Yes, advised Andrei, but with perhaps a 30-32% real headcount, not the 58% headcount that will get fed to the public. Andrei told me that Putin today must pay for support demonstrations. Much like here in the U.S.A., wouldn’t you say? Mr. Illarionov also informed me that Americans should be prepared for a ramping up of anti-American rhetoric and a massive build up in Russian defense spending as a % of GDP.
For two days, Debbie and I spent from 7:45 AM to 9:00 PM attending presentations, workshops and first-rate breakfast/lunch/dinner gatherings. The entire Breakers’ staff did a fabulous job. If you have not been to the Breakers, I cannot imagine a more wonderful estate/hotel/resort for a family visit.
Over the almost three days I spent with Cato scholars, staff and attendees I was able to ask many questions on a variety of subjects. Debbie and I, as Cato Benefactors, are regulars at Cato events, and I never cease to be amazed at both the quality of Cato’s policy team and the well-informed, focused and committed nature of attendees. I ask often what makes Cato click. What is Cato’s glue? Not surprising to me is the universal positive comments on Cato President Ed Crane and Chairman Bob Levy. I have gotten to know Ed pretty well and agree that Ed’s dominant personality and leadership key the Cato effort. It turns out that Bob and I go back to the early 70s when we both had an association with New York/Boston institutional research and trading firm Hoenig & Co. I knew Bob as a sharp and positive individual back then. In ensuing years, Bob has only advanced his status as Cato’s highly effective chairman. Bob was responsible for the groundbreaking Heller (Washington 2nd Amendment gun rights) Supreme Court victory. So when you think Cato, think Ed Crane and Bob Levy, and you will be off on the right track.
OK, so there’s a lot to learn and much to benefit from any Cato conclave. Here are a few items I took away from the Cato/Breakers event. First off, Cato is not a political beast and neither supports nor endorses presidential candidates. That said, I did not hear from attendees so much as a single word of support for Barack Obama. And almost without exception, attendees were horrified that such a background-free, income redistributionist lives in the White House. As for Republican candidates, I heard few if any positive comments. This fall, Americans will go to the polls to vote for a Marxist-influenced, central-government expander or a caretaker to the big government/military/industrial complex. Both horrible choices.
The two-party system in America no longer represents a big percentage of Americans. It is long past the time America advances to a multi-party system where all Americans feel well represented. I have taken a shot at how such a system might lay out and lay it out for you here. You may like to tinker with my associations and percentages as you think best. No matter how you finalize you’re thinking, however, I believe that you will conclude as I have that the party rules must change. A multi-party system would allow all Americans to select a party that would indeed represent each of our individual interests. Under such a system, I am confident that neither President Obama nor any of the current Republican front runners would have a prayer of winning the presidency. As a final note, I would add that when she was asked about her constitutional concerns for Obamacare, Nancy Pelosi responded, “Are You Serious?”