Bill Clinton was there; so was Colin Powell; so was Harvard prez Larry Summers; and so, thanks to his status as governor of the host state, was our own Bill Owens. Deep thoughts were thunk, pithy remarks were made, self-deprecating asides were murmured, and all of the out-of-power moderates rejoiced in their own intelligence, moderation and sensibility.
Among the comments, one uttered by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks stood out. Asked why, according to surveys, the public loathes the (liberal) press, Brooks replied that it's "because people are idiots. The press is more honest and less salacious now than ever before."
A card-carrying member of the right-wing elite, Brooks could have been giving voice to the private convictions of his liberal counterparts. "The people are idiots?" You go, David! Why look, didn't the people elect Bush, refuse to believe in evolution, embrace Scientology, buy Britney's CDs, listen to Dr. Dobson and believe in Karl Rove's innocence? And didn't these very same people try to impeach Bill Clinton over a stress-relieving activity with a young staffer, fail to elect either Al Gore or John Kerry, listen to Rush Limbaugh and buy Ann Coulter's books? Yup, David must be right: The people are idiots. That's why they hate the press!
It's just barely possible that hating the press is an outgrowth of protective tribalism. As a convinced moderate, I love the New York Times, the New Yorker, Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly (the sponsor of the Aspen thinkathon) and the Denver Post. The Wall Street Journal's editorials make me crazy, as do the Gazette's, and the Rocky's, and as does the National Review in its entirety.
And there's nothing quite as alarming as reading a thoughtful, coherent, solidly grounded, well-researched piece that explodes all of your cherished preconceptions. Think the Bush administration is full of dangerous, dimwitted, nuke-lovin' neocons who are merrily destroying our beloved nation? Read last week's Economist, whose incisive survey of American politics depicts them as smart, bold leaders who are aren't afraid to make mistakes on the way to making a better, safer world.
But it's no fun to discard your prejudices and actually think about the issues. You'll get tossed out of your tribe, and the other tribe won't want you. You'll be alone and friendless -- so don't pay any attention to the siren song of reasoned debate.
Meanwhile, close to home, the strange little dance between the Independent and the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs continues. Last year, the Indy applied to join the HBA, hoping that membership in that august (and staunchly pro-development) organization would lead to more cordial relations between your favorite altweekly and the development community -- and maybe even a little more advertising! The application failed, but five HBA board members supported us.
Hope springs eternal, so the Indy applied again this year. Alas, we went from five votes to zero. The HBA, apparently, knows perfectly well that Indy types don't buy, own or build houses. They just live in tents and whine about development.
Nevertheless, HBA president Kevin Walker is one of the smartest, best-informed and competent advocates the pro-growth boys have ever had. And that's why I avoid him like the plague. I don't want to have to re-think those cherished preconceptions.
So, Kevin, let's make a deal: I'll take you out to lunch every month for a year and absorb your wisdom, and you let us join the HBA and help get Independent readers out of their tents and into lofts.
And finally, back in Aspen, our own Governor Bill actually got to address the assembled power people, commanding the respectful attention of Clinton, Powell, Jeff Bezos, Toni Morrison, Steve Case -- American royalty all. Here's what New York Magazine columnist Kurt Andersen said about Owens in his moment in the sun:
"[Bill] Clinton's sensible centrism was refreshing ... conversely, Bill Owens, Colorado's local-anchormanly Republican governor, was a predictable, weaselly purveyor of GOP talking points."
"Local-anchormanly!" Now that's a killshot phrase -- and that's why Kurt Andersen is a big-time New York media person, while the rest of us labor in obscurity, hoping only to join the HBA.
Don't you just hate the (rich liberal) media?