Heard on the Hill

Cato Prom: Caviar, Governor, Dissident, Protester

On Friday, the Cato Institute awarded the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty at its biennial black-tie dinner. The evening started with an open bar and wee caviar potato bites. Also at the event: a man in a bowler cap, several ponytails and at least one marijuana lapel pin. The Milton Friedman Prize, which we kept calling the Ayn Rand Prize for Public Service, includes a $250,000 cash prize, was presented to Chinese dissident and economist Mao Yushi. Yushi is the chairman of the Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing. As he approached the podium to accept his award, a man raced down the center aisle of the Washington Hilton's hall carrying two protest signs, one of which accused the economist of being a part of "the 99 percent." Several men in tuxedos escorted the protester from the hall. In the background, one dinner attendee shouted, "Commie pinko!" "The bottom line is that is an organ of the government," says Chris Kennedy, Cato's director of media relations. "He — and the regime — are clearly discomfited by what Mao stands for, which is freedom and human dignity." On Friday night, HOH asked to see the protest signs that had been confiscated by the organizers. We were told that we couldn't see them because the signs were in Mandarin. At least part of one sign, however, was in English. A highlight of the dinner was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's entertaining keynote address. A couple of guests did prickle, however, when the governor described them as "committed conservatives." The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank, Kennedy explains: "When we have speakers – especially GOP headliners — they are not going to hit all the libertarian greatest hits." "Libertarians," he says, "are used to not being understood." In Christie's case, he opened his speech "waxing a little bit about foreign policy" and "using a bit of a neoconservative refrain." But he quickly got the audience back on his side though when he talked about lowering taxes in the Garden State.