Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo appeared at the Manhattan Institute on Thursday to receive that organization’s Urban Innovator Award. Raimondo was being recognized for her efforts to reform the state’s public pension plans. While Raimando is not the first Democrat to receive the award, her appearance at the right-wing think tank is likely to raise eyebrows back home because of what she said and where she said it.
For instance, in response to a question from Charles Brunie – a founder of Oppenheimer Capital and former chairman of the Manhattan Institute – Raimondo seemed to indicate that she’s open to privatizing, or selling outright, state assets. She also suggested that, due to her private sector background, she outworks lawmakers and other public servants and employees at the state house.
To be sure, the substance of Raimondo’s speech was the importance of core government services and the need to sustain them financially for future generations. She highlighted Rhode Island’s pension reforms as proof that government can work and closed by arguing that the debate over whether government is too big should be supplanted by a debate over whether government is effective. However, the venue for her speech raises questions.
The Manhattan Institute, perhaps best known as the “brain trust” of the Giuliani administration in New York, has a long history of working to privatize, undermine, and cut public schools, social services, and public transportation. These are the very services that Raimondo cited as essential in her life and to all citizens of Rhode Island.
More broadly, the Manhattan Institute pushes a right-wing agenda that is only partially obscured by the intellectual veneer it projects on its work. Whether it’s equal rights for gays and lesbians, immigration reform, equality between men and women, or affirmative action for minorities, the Manhattan Institute is working against it. In fact, the think tank’s best known “scholar” is Charles Murray, co-author of the discredited Bell Curve, which claimed a genetic link between race and IQ – e.g. blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites.
It is unclear what Raimondo hoped to accomplish by accepting the award. The motivations of the Manhattan Institute, however, are far less opaque. Their aim is to cut government spending on social programs – not to make it more effective – but rather to achieve their utopian free market vision of society. Partnering with a Democrat like Raimondo enables them to put forward a reasonable, bi-partisan face. The day after her speech, no less than the Wall Street Journal editorial page – no fan of Democrats or government – heaped praise on the treasurer for leading the Rhode Island “miracle.”
You can watch selected clips below and the full speech on the Manhattan Institute’s Public Sector Inc. website.
Intro video featuring Dick Cheney praising the Manhattan Institute’s “fresh thinking”:
Raimondo on getting locked in the state house:
Raimondo Q&A with Charles Brunie:
Raimondo on the importance of government: