A beefed-up conservative presence at the 2019 Aspen Ideas Festival brought new faces and engagement to the annual affair.
Columnist Bret Stephens
The core mission of the Aspen Institute is to be a “nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas.” That dedication to nonpartisanship was renewed at the 2019 Aspen Ideas Festival as a direct response to feedback from annual participants wanting more diversity of thought to be represented at the seven-day confab, co-hosted by The Atlantic.
In a January 2019 missive titled “Your Perspective Matters,” festival VP Kitty Boone wrote, “We’ve decided to dedicate one of our topical tracks to exploring how different conservative viewpoints are shaping our politics in D.C. and across the U.S., what values both mainstream and not-so-mainstream conservatives hold dear, and how various policies and approaches to governance will address some of the most serious dilemmas we face in our society.”
Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
The conservatism program track was anchored by heavyweight political figures and resulted in a series of heated academic debates that exposed an internecine rift on the intellectual right—not just about policy but on a philosophical definition of conservatism.
In a standing-room-only evening session with Chris Buskirk and Bret Stephens at Belly Up Aspen, the two thought leaders debated if immigration is inherently a moral value (as Stephens suggested) or a policy question (as Buskirk defined it), something that can be attuned over time depending on the nation’s needs?
Senator Ben Sasse
On another panel, Stephens declared, “For a healthy democracy, we need a morally sound and intellectually honest conservative movement,” and called for moral leadership. However, in a “meet your senator” interview with Ben Sasse, the Nebraskan articulated the realities of day-to-day policy-making in congress, and the struggle to move pragmatic solutions forward.
Each session of the topical track was packed, leaving Karl Rove to quip to the overflowing audience at his 9AM talk, “You are all political junkies and in need of help!”
Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove
“Overall, people were impressed with those we were able to engage here, and happy that there was a concerted effort to get [a] conservative balance into the mix,” wrote Boone after the festival, “[It was] really, really well received.”
Photography by: Paul Ryan and Bret Stephens photos by Leigh Vogel; Karl Rove photo by Ian Wagreich; Ben Sasse photo by Dan Bayer; all photos property of the Aspen Institute