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Inside the Beltway

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2007

Politics aside

Chief Bush strategist and White House aide Karl Rove will join former President Bill Clinton at next week's 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival at the Aspen Institute in Colorado.

Other speakers (more than 250 are lined up) flocking to the Rockies include Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, and William H. Gates Sr., who it was once said is "best known as the father of the richest man in the world," Microsoft founder BillGates.

The weeklong "deep and inquisitive public discourse" runs July 2-8, and speakers are told in advance that any harbored grudges or partisanship is best kept at the door.

"So much of what passes for discussion today in other venues, and far too often in the public square, is acutely partisan and vitriolic," observes Elliot Gerson, the institute's executive vice president. "At the Aspen Ideas Festival, artists offer their sensibilities and perspectives to discussions .... This happens in a few other places, and it can be magical."

Mr. Rove's appearance will be in the form of an interview conducted on the final day by Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson, the best-selling author who lives in Georgetown.

Unpopular, but free

Speaking of the persistent lack of dignity within Washington's political circles, White House press secretary Tony Snow saw fit to remind Americans yesterday that it's not just President Bush receiving the extremely low approval ratings — the lowest since Richard M. Nixon fled town.

Briefing reporters after White House Counsel Fred Fielding informed the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees that Mr. Bush was asserting "executive privilege" in response to subpoena requests for domestic surveillance records, Mr. Snow pointed out, "It also may explain why this is the least-popular Congress in decades, because you do have what appears to be a strategy of destruction rather than cooperation."

Looking on a brighter side, we recall two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson remarking while stumping for votes in 1952: "A free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."

Free, if not fair

As listeners of talk radio heard ad nauseam this week, critics of conservative broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh are demanding "equal time" to air their opposing viewpoints.

Mr. Limbaugh counters that it's not his fault if a dozen or more liberal talk-radio hosts have come and gone in recent years, unable to attract enough listeners. Now the movement demanding equal time, via reinstatement of the so-called Fairness Doctrine that was revoked by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987 because it stifled free speech and free press, has reached Capitol Hill and beyond.

Initial reaction?

Re-read the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, suggests former judge-turned-Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican.

"The Constitution protects free speech, not equal speech," he educates. "Congress is to make no law abridging the freedom of speech whether we like the speech or not. It's simple, speech is to be free, not fair. Fair is too subjective a word. Our grandfathers guaranteed us free speech, not fair speech, and there is a big difference."

Fading pink

At yesterday's Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Islamic extremism in Europe, a dozen anti-war Code Pink activists were in attendance.

When the hearing broke for a Senate floor vote, the leader of the group signaled for the others to begin shouting in unison: "Senator Collins, stop funding the war." Meanwhile, two of the activists frantically searched through their congressional directory, trying to figure out what state the senator represented. One announced, "M.E.," at which point the other said brightly, "That stands for Maine."

By the end of the hearing, the group leader once again motioned to her comrades, and immediately they began shouting: "Senator Lieberman, stop funding the war."

At which point a woman sitting beside the protesters stood up to leave, but on her way out she issued this oral warning to one of the protesters: "If the jihadis win, you'll be wearing a burqa and it won't be pink."

Local Elvis

Yes, that's Lisa De Pasquale, director of the annual CPAC conference, lined up to be one of three judges for this weekend's Washington-area Elvis Presley contest.

"Since it's the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, Elvis Presley Enterprises is sponsoring tribute artist contests all over the country," explains Miss De Pasquale, who was born in 1977, the same year Elvis died (or is he still alive?).

"Some of the contestants are pretty famous in tribute artist circles," she says of the 22 featured Washington-area Elvis impersonators, including "a doctor that does the Elvis thing on the side."

The all-day Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest begins at noon tomorrow at Prince George's County Stadium in Bowie. After the initial round of competition, there will be a 6 p.m. Elvis look-alike contest, with the Elvis finalists set to perform again at 7 p.m. At 8 p.m. there is an Elvis tribute show, and the overall Elvis winner will be crowned at 10 p.m.

And dare we forget to mention that Ian Walters, son of Washington Times political writer Ralph Z. Hallow, is in the backup band that will perform with all of the contestants.

c John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or