Monday, February 18, 2008

Socrates Society Seminar... Aspen Institute, James Woolsey, Charlie Wilson's War

This weekend I attended the Socrates Society Seminar at the Aspen Institute. This seminar program was founded by Gary and Laura Lauder over a decade ago, and Laura was nice enough to invite me. It's a great vision and forum that they created, so I hope Christine can join me at their next event.

For the 2008 February session, they had three seminars:

- Women, Empowerment, and Change
- Democracy 2008
- Energy in the 21st Century: Can it be Secure? Sustainable? Affordable?

I participated in the Democracy 2008 seminar, which was moderated by Mickey Edwards and Sean Wilentz. Mickey was a Republican member of Congress for 16 years, teaches at Princeton University, and recently wrote "Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost--And How It Can Find Its Way Back." Sean is a Democrat, Professor of History at Princeton University and he recently wrote "The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008." It was incredible to have such great thinkers leading our discussions over the course of this long weekend.

I enjoyed our seminar because Mickey and Sean, my fellow participants, and the readings and discussions allowed me to gain new insights and expand my thinking.

This weekend was also edifying because of the people I met beyond our discussion group. One was James Woolsey, who was moderating the Energy seminar. Jim is currently a partner at Booz Allen Hamilton and former Director of the CIA. He's a colorful, engaging person. One conversation he was telling a few of us about Charlie Wilson, the congressman portrayed in the recent movie "Charlie Wilson's War." If you saw the movie, you'll remember the beginning scene where the CIA is giving out their highest award to Congressman Wilson. The person giving the award was supposed to be James Woolsey.

Anyway, he explained how the movie was understated because Wilson led a more wild life than displayed in the movie.

"More? Really??" I replied. If you saw the movie you would understand.

And the belly dancer ploy?

"True." Hilarious.

He also said that the move was spot-on. Of course there were other congressmen involved that weren't highlighted in the movie, but Charlie Wilson was the driver.

This brought me back to something that Congressman Mickey Edwards brought up on how the culture of our government and the stability of power between our three branches has changed. Instead of being a check and balance on each other, Congress has almost become a yes-man of the President. Everything is done to support the President, if your party is in power, or to maintain or gain control. Well, I guess both parties are focused on having control instead of acting as an independent branch of our government.

So I was wondering if Congressman Charlie Wilson could have accomplished what he did in arming the Afghanistan rebels during today's political culture? I assume today's Congress gets things done independent of the White House's wishes, party strongholds, and fears of losing control, but does it happen less often and on a lesser scale? If this is true, then the integrity of our political system has weakened. What do we do as citizens to change this? As future leaders?

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