After the first two panels, I feared I was the odd man out in accepting Teddy Forstmann's invitation. But during a break, one of the president's closest friends -- who had remained silent -- thanked me profusely for my comments. That set a pattern. Throughout the next two days, men and women who were mute publicly thanked me privately for speaking up. When I said nothing during one panel discussion, some people asked me why I was silent.
Longtime participants in Forstmann Little conferences (this was my first and, after this column, probably my last) told me they had not experienced such hostility against a Republican president at previous events. Yet, they were sure a majority of the guests had voted for Bush.
This analysis was reported to me over lunch by a financier who regularly attends these events. When he thanked me for my comments and said he shared my sentiments, I asked why he did not express them publicly at a session. He replied that he did not feel able to articulate what he felt. Critics of the president who are vocal and supporters who are reticent comprise a massive communications failure.
U.S. News & World Report disclosed this week, with apparent disdain, that presidential adviser Karl Rove took time off from the Katrina relief effort to be at Aspen. He was needed as a counterweight. I settled in for serious fireworks, expecting Bush-bashers to assault his alter ego at the conference's final session. However, direct confrontation with a senior aide must have been more difficult than a remote attack on the president. It would be a shame if Rove returned to Washington without informing George W. Bush how erstwhile friends have turned against him.