Through the Looking Glass: Washington Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

The following remarks were delivered by CEI President Kent Lassman at CEI’s Annual Dinner and Reception held on June 7, 2017.

Thank you.

Despite her warm demeanor tonight, Kim Strassel is a stone cold killer. If you have seen her on Face the Nation, you know that she goes straight for the jugular. I got off easy tonight.

I’m happy to call her a friend and grateful for her devotion to freedom.  Not shocking, but we are both laissez-faire parents, too.

Kim, it is wonderful to have you with us tonight! I know that I speak for nearly 900 people in this room when I say:

Thank you for putting your talents toward the pursuit of honest, clear, and hard-hitting civic discourse.

Now there’s another woman in this room who has similar qualities. She is hardworking, practical and exceptionally talented.

Even more impressive than her successful careers in the private sector, government service, and non-profit leadership is the deregulatory, pro-freedom record of Secretary Elaine Chao.

During the Bush years, the Department of Labor was a place where freedom moved forward.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask the union members who now have a better understanding of how unions spend their dues.

I couldn’t be happier than to see her advising a President once again.

Now, for all of us here, let’s look forward to a hell of a good night!

Let me tell you why I’m optimistic.

  • This year we’ve seen the administration halt a number of harmful energy regulations and clear the way for energy projects that have been stalled for years.
  • Last week, we won on the Paris Climate Treaty! By calling off that costly and ineffective – not to mention unconstitutional agreements – the President opened up the field to genuine environmental stewardship based on property rights.

For more than 20 years—from Kyoto to Paris—CEI has fought against economically destructive policies that lead to poverty. And last week, we scored a big victory for everyone who wants abundant, affordable and reliable energy sources.

You know, a few years ago, a little newspaper labeled CEI an “Obscure Think Tank” as we took Obamacare to the Supreme Court.

Last week, it was Anderson Cooper on CNN who called CEI a “little known organization who has a big influence.”

Let’s take a look.

Frankly, I don’t care what they call us in the media as long as they get our name right and we keep winning.

Why else should we be optimistic?

  • Finally, we have a budget proposal that tackles regulation as a key to reducing the size and scope of the federal government.   
  • Members of Congress and even the White House have recognized the creeping effects of regulatory dark matter and are considering solutions.

It’s encouraging to have both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue interested in CEI’s regulatory reform work.

  • CEI took on New York Attorney General Eric Schniederman in court, and won. Now, we’re making progress against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Our class action litigators have won millions of dollars for consumers and shareholders and landmark decisions that protect us from trial lawyers who are only interested in lining their own pockets.

Tonight we celebrate CEI and the ideas that drive us all toward a healthier, wealthier, and freer society.

We’re winning in other ways, too.

  • The media presence of CEI’s scholars and work is at an all-time high. And for the seventh year in a row we’ve received record-breaking support for this dinner!
  • Thank you to everyone who helped us reach this goal.

We know that people come to the CEI dinner for fun. 

And not just to hear me talk.

If you’re going to a party in Washington you want to be hanging out with the folks from CEI. In this room, Fred Smith I’m talking to you, it’s safe to let your freedom freak flag fly.

I’ve been at CEI for a little more than a year. And this past year was crazy. I’m not even talking about the election.

At lunchtime on my second day, we were subpoenaed for more than a decade’s worth of our advocacy work on energy issues going back to 1990s. Let me tell you, an introduction to your lawyers is a memorable start!

We beat back the “AGs for Clean Power” because their attack on free speech was not only corrupt, but illegal.

Looking ahead, I have one big idea to share. It’s an old one—but it’s a part of CEI’s history and our future.

I’m talking about integrity. It is a word – a state of being – that is about wholeness. It demands consistency and the unity of thought and action.

There can be no integrity in our organizations, our political leaders, or the law without accountability to a standard.

At CEI, that standard is excellence in what we produce. It is in the advancement of human welfare through capitalism, which is based on a very simple three-legged stool:

  • Private ownership and clear property rights,
  • The price system,
  • And, the rule of law.

I believe integrity is the watchword for an emerging American era. If politics is the means to achieve policy, authenticity is the 21st century political currency.

Integrity is nothing more than a word for authenticity in action. Integrity, consistency, principle, action – this is CEI.

In his 1845 memoir, Frederick Douglass wrote, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.

I promise: CEI will be true to principle even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others.

Because it is past time to fundamentally transform the relationship between a lawless, expansive regulatory state and a free people who pursue their lives, who build, create, and innovate according to their own plan.

CEI is at the vanguard of that transformation.

And there is a lot of work to do! Think about this: The overwhelming majority of the wealth that will sustain the world in our lifetime has not yet been created.

And for that reason, we can go forward with optimism and good cheer. We can be confident that our path – to create a limited, transparent, and lawful regulatory environment – is a path with purpose.

Let’s kick it off with a fantastic dinner. Tonight we will present an award to celebrate that essential renewable resource – human ingenuity – and hear from some wonderful speakers.

When the program has ended, stick around for the CEI dinner movie, and I look forward to seeing you at the After-Party.

Thank you all for being here. Thank you for your support of CEI and working with us all year long!