This is my report of the 2019 NR Ideas Summit in Washington, DC. It was the first such event I’ve attended and I really enjoyed it. My report is going to be mostly photos—iPhone X quality in less-than ideal lighting conditions—and will glide over a good deal of the time-sensitive political content. This was a great opportunity for me to see a lot of the personalities I read in the magazine and listen to in podcasts.
I flew United Airlines to Dulles—Yay, Mileage Plus frequent flyer ticket—and checked into the conference hotel, the Mandarin Oriental. This is a pretty swanky hotel, but its location near the Jefferson Memorial is a bit isolated and is not one that I would choose for a subsequent trip on my own.
The conference did not start until 1 PM, so I had the morning to walk around. Unfortunately, I spent most of the time looking for an optometrist to repair my broken eyeglasses, so I did not see a lot, but I eventually got to the Lincoln Memorial, my favorite, and then to the Jefferson Memorial, which I had never visited before, despite 20+ trips to DC.
Opening Address: Richard Lowry, NR
The Buckley Legacy and the Element of Civility (Matthew Continetti, NR, Lee Edwards, The Heritage Foundation, Neal Freeman, The Blackwell Corporation, John O’Sullivan, NR). I was intrigued by the description of Buckley's "elegant incivility."
Donor Privacy (David Keating, Institute for Free Speech and David French, NR). This was mostly a discussion of the recent HR-1 bill in the House.
New Socialism (Charles C. W. Cooke, NR, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Kevin D. Williamson, NR). There was an interesting comment about European socialism being about ideology, versus US socialism, which is mostly an enemies list.
The Case for the Melting Pot (Senator Marco Rubio and Reihan Salam, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research). Sen. Rubio was in his usual articulate form.
The Constitutional Order Under Attack (Leonard Leo, Federalist Society, Luke Thompson, NR, John Yoo, University of California at Berkeley)
The Role of the US in the World (Michael R. Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State and Rich Lowry, NR). I found this discussion to be the highlight of the conference and was very impressed with Sec. Pompeo.
The Whittaker Chambers Award Dinner honoring Mark Janus. There was an open bar cocktail reception and then dinner was quite elaborate, with generously flowing wines. Janus was the plaintiff in the famous recent Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, which put a throttle on mandatory union dues. The next day I read in the paper that the descendents of Whittaker Chambers objected to this award because Chambers was a big union supporter, and in the kerfuffle about this, Jack Fowler decided to retire this award for the future.
Night Owl: No Safe Spaces Movie Discussion (Adam Carolla, The Adam Carolla Show, and David French, NR). Adam and Dennis Prager were prime movers in creating a movie about the loss of free speech on college campuses, and this was a discussion that included a few clips from the movie (but also see my discussion of Friday afternoon).
We started the morning with a nice breakfast buffet. Some six hardy souls participated in an early morning jog to the Jefferson Memorial (which is actually pretty close by, although there are some gnarly roads that have to be traversed). I had not known about this in advance, so I did not bring any running clothes.
American Innovation (Brooke Rollins, White House Office of American Innovation). I'm sorry to say this was a pretty content free presentation, but brief. :-)
Economic Priorities (Kevin Hassett, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and Ramesh Ponnuru, NR). Kevin said that the risks to the current good economy are that Europe is getting close to a recession, and a possible sense of pessimism in the market that may occur if it looks like socialist candidates on the left are going to in 2020. He also cited a very recent study that indicated an analysis of poverty programs has shown that the 1965ish War on Poverty has actually been successful, when the incomes of the lowest quintile include government benefits, such as food stamps (which, inexplicably, previous studies have failed to do).
The Natural Gas Revolution (Kevin D. Williamson, NR, Mike Sommers, American Petroleum Institute, Robert Bryce, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research). This was a very interesting presentation with lots of facts and figures about the natural gas industry. Ten years ago there were numerous liquid natural gas ports being developed for import, but today they are exporting heavily. In the last year, the increase in gas consumption represents more energy than all of the solar and wind sources in use, as well as all of China's natural gas use. There are 3 billion people on earth who use less than 1000 kWh per year. They said that the popular acronym NIMBY is now being replaced by BANANA--build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone.
Education Priorities (Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, and Jay Nordlinger, NR). Ms DeVos bemoaned the slow pace of technology in education, although in my list of problems in this area, technology would not be prioritized very highly. There was no mention of the kerfuffle that day in which Pres. Trump publicly countermanded her budgetary underfunding of the Special Olympics.
Opportunities for All (Harmeet Dhillon, Dhillon Law Group, John Yoo, UC Berkeley, Tammy Bruce, Independent Woman’s Voice). This was essentially a discussion about identity politics. Tammy opined that the goal of civil rights activists used to be treating everyone the same, but they are now focused on isolating groups from each other and providing special accommodations.
Federal Communications Commission Priorities (Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, and Charles C. W. Cooke, NR). Mr Pai was very impressive. The discussion covered net neutrality, 5G wireless networks, and Huawei.
Populism and the Right (Tucker Carlson, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and Michael Brendan Dougherty, NR). Tucker gave a good definition of populism, which is that it's a warning sign that you have bad elites. He said that the most important priority was the freedom to raise your own children. This discussion was conducted as part of an elaborate lunch, once again with flowing wine service.
How Conservatives Should Think About Nationalism (Jim Geraghty, NR, Jonah Goldberg, NR, Richard Lowry, NR). This was a friendly, but heated, discussion in which Rich tied nationalism to its biblical roots, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, and Jonah pushed back strongly indicating there are many instances of nationalism that are not benign. He thought that the term "white nationalist" is a contradiction in terms, because an American nationalist should encompass all of the different ethnicities that make up our society.
The Case for Federalism (The Honorable James L. Buckley). The brother of William F Buckley, former US Senator and federal judge, gave what was billed as his final public speech, which summarized the points in his book of a few years ago, Saving Congress from Itself, which addressed problems in the administrative state based on Congress giving coercive money to states to implement priorities that would not otherwise be authorized by the Constitution (the 1937 Supreme Court case, Steward Machine Co. v. Davis).
The conference ended, but about 30 of us accepted an invitation to walk over to the Heritage Foundation (about 2 miles away) and attend a complementary screening of the No Safe Spaces movie, along with a Q&A by the movie's producer and director. We actually saw an unfinished version because they were asking for audience suggestions and intimated that some of them might end up in the movie. I thought that the movie was moderately good. Afterward I walked to the nearby Union Station for a light dinner in their food court (actually the Shake Shack hamburger restaurant), and then back to the Mandarin Oriental to pick up my bag. I spent Friday night at the Hilton near the airport and returned to San Francisco on an early morning flight Saturday. The conference was an outstanding event and I will seriously consider attending future versions.