Friend and development dude Al Canata was relieved last week to learn I couldn’t make the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual dinner, held tonight at the JW Marriott a couple of blocks from the White House.
CEI had broken the previous year’s million dollars-plus fundraising record, Al said, which created a problem. There are only so many seats to go around. My voluntarily not going — because of the fallout from the mother of all flus coupled with a catastrophic computer failure — meant one less person he’d have to disappoint.
Some folks in DC talk about the White House Correspondents Dinner as “nerd prom,” but the real intellectual prommery happens at the CEI dinner. This year the event is so big it demands a subtitle: “Bourbon and BBQ Bash: Liberty Served Smooth and Smokin’.” Reason’s Matt Welch will emcee with his hipster glasses. Vice presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina will keynote. Nobel laureate economist Vernon Smith will accept an award named after the late Julian Simon.
All of the above could make it sound like slightly larger version of a DC dinner with a libertarian twist. It’s not. It’s the best party in DC, and even that undersells it because it’s really a series of parties. There’s the before party, the dinner, the after party, the after-after parties. Most right-of-center shops in DC have already written off any productivity goals for tomorrow morning.
Booze flows freely and copiously through all of this, of course, but that’s only part of what makes it work. Every year, all of the staff from CEI pitch in in some way to help bring the event off. For instance, this year, the centerpieces on all of the tables will feature empty bourbon bottles. I have it on good authority that CEI workers almost to a man pitched in to bail the liquid out of those bottles.
Then of course there’s the staff video — an amateur number by the folks at CEI illustrating the virtues of markets or the vices of cronyism and bureaucracy. The one year I was on staff as the Warren T. Brookes Fellow, they had me grow out some beard stubble, put on a long black coat and sell a back-alley hamburger to future rebels against a much more Michelle Obama-compliant America.
The Spectator requested a copy of this year’s video, but the powers-that-be at CEI didn’t want to spoil it. They would only say that it has a “Western theme” and will be available to the world via YouTube sometime after the dinner.
To the guy sitting in my seat, I say: Have a great time but don’t get too comfortable. I’m coming back next year.