ASPEN, Colo. -- For two full days, George W. Bush was bashed. He was taken to task on his handling of stem cell research, population control, the Iraq war and, especially, Hurricane Katrina. The critics were no left-wing bloggers. They were rich, mainly Republican and presumably Bush voters in the last two presidential elections.
The Bush-bashing occurred last weekend at the annual Aspen conference sponsored by the New York investment firm Forstmann Little & Co. Over 200 invited guests, mostly prestigious, arrived Thursday night (many by private aircraft) and stayed until Sunday morning for more than golf, hikes and gourmet meals. They faithfully attended the discussions presided over by PBS's Charlie Rose on such serious subjects as "global poverty and human rights" and "the 'new' world economy." The connecting link was hostility to President Bush.
"All discussions are off the record," admonished the conference's printed schedule. Consequently, I will refrain from specifically quoting panelists and audience members. But the admonition says nothing about personal conversations outside the sessions. Nor do I feel inhibited in quoting myself. Even if I am violating the spirit of secrecy rules, revealing criticism of Bush by this elite group, and the paucity of defense for him, is valuable in reflecting the president's parlous political condition.
The Forstmann Little Aspen Weekend is made possible by the generosity of Theodore J. Forstmann, a doughty supporter of supply-side economics and longtime contributor to the Republican Party. Invited guests are drawn from government, diplomacy, politics, the arts, entertainment and journalism.
I was surprised that the program indicated the first panel, on stem cell research, consisted solely of scientists hostile to the Bush administration's position. In the absence of any disagreement, I took the floor to suggest there are scientists and bioethicists with dissenting views and that it was not productive to demean opposing views as based on "religious dogma." The response was peeved criticism of my intervention and certainly no support.
I do not see myself as a defender of the Bush presidency, and I am sure the White House does not regard me as such. But as a member of the second panel consisting of journalists, I felt constrained to argue against implications that Hurricane Katrina should cause the president to rediscover race and poverty. My comments again generated more criticism from the audience and obvious exasperation by Charlie Rose. Indeed, after the closing dinner Saturday night, the moderator made clear he was displeased by my conduct.