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Irwin M. Stelzer, Aspen outsider

Sep 10, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 48 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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If Washingtonians think they live in a Democratic-dominated city, they should come out here to the Rocky Mountain hotbed of liberalism that is Aspen. In Washington, each party recognizes that the other must exist. Otherwise, they would have no one to attack and would be forced instead to come up with positive solutions to the nation’s problems. Here in Aspen, in the swing state of Colorado, the existence of conservatives—taken to be synonymous with Republicans, the political literacy rate not allowing for too many fine distinctions—is deemed an affront to the community.

Donkeys on Mountain

DAVID CLARK

This is a town where the buses are free, the city council is planning to ban construction of “free market” residential units, and new buildings have long been required to include subsidized housing units, thousands of which are already available to people employed locally, the idea being to create a “balanced community” where people at all income levels can afford to live.

Aspen is in Pitkin County, which found overwhelming merit in George McGovern and Mike Dukakis and went 70 percent for the Democratic Senate candidate in 2010, when much of the rest of the country was having second thoughts about the performance of the Democratic White House and Congress. Here, there are no major class divisions when it comes to politics: Rich and poor alike believe in an activist government doling out goodies of all sorts, funded in part by tourists, who are taxed without representation—nonvoters being traditionally a great source of revenue, and not only in Aspen. 

All of this is unobjectionable. After all, Aspen voters have a perfect right to pick governments that are far to the left of the American mainstream. What is objectionable is the intolerance, the smug certainty that those opposing “progressive” politics are enemies of the people. That would be us, my wife and me, who are part-time residents of Aspen. 

We have variously been accused of not wanting to see a black man in the White House (I would vote for the rascally Charlie Rangel given the chance, on the theory that what you see is what you get); of being homophobic (actually, we have no objection to gay marriage, since conservatives should, we feel, favor stable marriages and families); and wanting to toss old people over the cliff (when all we want to do is make President Obama give back the $716 billion he has stolen from the seniors’ Medicare pot to fund the cost of caring for the young people who will be newly covered by Obamacare). When we protest that cutting reimbursements to doctors, as Obamacare does, will make it even less likely that doctors will take on Medicare patients, we are treated with the indifference generally reserved for people who are not au courant as to the latest in ski wax.

The reasons for this uniformly left-leaning approach to politics probably have something to do with what attracts people to this paradise, which is home to enough arts festivals to keep everyone feeling superior to those Republican philistines in Vail. The Aspen Institute makes a pass at hosting speakers from all parts of the political spectrum, but the conservatives invited are generally the presentable faces of the center-right, the sort PBS features to prove it is fair and balanced. There are exceptions: Charles Murray was out here this summer, with his warning about the fragmentation of American society (a theme rather congenial to left-leaning critics of capitalism), and a contingent from the American Enterprise Institute was given a respectful hearing. But by and large, this is Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton (his, er, progressive views on personal behavior generate forgiveness for welfare reform), Barack Obama country. 

Yet not entirely. Miracle of miracles, the scattered band of reviled Republicans this year screwed up their courage and opened a campaign office—visible to all from the state highway as it enters town. This will undoubtedly upset whoever tried to tear the Bush-Cheney bumper sticker off my wife’s SUV. Never mind. So great is the fear of forest fires out west this year that the Republican campaign volunteers at least need have no fear of being burned out.

None of this should deter you from coming to visit—but we suggest coming after the election, when the snow is flying (the merchants hope) and attention has turned from politics to the weightier question of when the slopes will open for business.

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