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Posted at 08:02 PM ET, 06/28/2012

Aspen Ideas Festival: Panel mania

I think it’s fair to say that I had a better day today than CNN did. [It is a historical fact, incontrovertible, that back on March 29 in this humble space I predicted, with frightening clairvoyance and only minimal backpedaling, that SCOTUS would uphold the Affordable Care Act , with Roberts writing the majority opinion saying that it’s constitutional not because of the commerce clause, which was what the administration argued, but because of Congress’s taxation authority. Missed only the Kennedy element.]

I’m pulling hardship duty in Aspen, going to panels, hitting the trails, popping into the weight room. I’m off to a cocktail party and then will hear another panel. There are a lot of pundits here, and politicians, and corporate people. And sports stars! Jim Brown is here — the Jim Brown! — and Craig Robinson, the First Brother-in-Law.

Brown complained that retired players, even great ones, have it hard: “They haul you off to the Hall of Fame to sign autographs and make three dollars.” He talked of the riches that young players make today, but they don’t extend to his generation: “None of us are included in the pot.”

Robinson and Brown took a few gentle shots at moderator Jeremy Schaap (an ESPN reporter who, by the way, was a stalwart at the Sandusky trial) for the way the media focus on the most flamboyant personalities and not the best role models.

“The media doesn’t find feel-good stories interesting enough to promote rather than other stories. There are very few stories about Derrick Rose because he’s a good guy and he doesn’t get into trouble.”

Schaap said, “Maybe the wrong people are put on a pedestal.”

Brown quickly said, “You said ‘maybe’?”

Later in the day I went to a depressing panel about Congress. The panelists were centrists from both parties: Dan Glickman-D, Mickey Edwards-R, Jane Harman-D, Tom Daschle-D and Vin Weber-R, with the estimable Ron Brownstein as the moderator. Collectively they bemoaned the partisan divide that has stalemated Congress. They talked about the filibuster being out of control (Daschle suggested that they revert to the old system in which you had to actually hold the floor to filibuster a bill – holding it in if you felt the need to run to the loo). They noted that in Congress there is now no ideological overlap between the parties -- every Republican is now more conservative than every Democrat.

And it’s all become a team sport, such that, as Edwards put it, “Compromise is seen as betrayal.” He said that primary challenges from the ideological fringe allows a relatively small minority to exert undue influence on electoral outcomes. Moderates either lose in the primary (see Richard Lugar) or drift away from the center. “We’ve set up a system that allows the tail to wag the dog,” Edwards said.

Daschle said the airplane is a factor. I am not sure if he was longing for the 19th century or just making a point about modern congressional habits, but he said, “The airplane has allowed people to leave on Thursday and come back on Tuesday. You can’t govern on Wednesday alone.” And no new members of Congress after the most recent election moved their families to Washington. The members just don’t know each other the way they used to. There’s limited opportunity for camaraderie.

Harman said Affordable Care Act had some good, bipartisan provisions stripped from it to ensure that it would pass the House – a shot at liberal Democrats. “Good policy gets lost in this process,” she said. .

So it was not a happy bunch. Except they seemed happy to be no longer in Congress.

In other news: I moderated a panel this morning with Helene Gayle of CARE and Dennis Dimick of National Geographic. Dennis showed us an updated version of his great slide show that I wrote about a while back. It’s really well done, though it kind of makes you want to curl up in a fetal ball. Earth has challenges.

Even if, on a typical day, Aspen seems like Paradise.

By  |  08:02 PM ET, 06/28/2012

 
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