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Aspen Ideas Festival 2011: Event Liveblog

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 07/01/2011 12:40 pm EDT Updated: 06/13/2013 2:32 pm EDT

HuffPost is live at the Aspen Ideas Festival 2011. We will be live-blogging sessions as the weekend progresses. Check back often for updates, features, and blogs. Scroll down to see previous sessions

HuffPost will liveblog the session, "Israel, the 'Arab Spring,' and Us," with Thomas Friedman and Leon Wieseltier beginning at 4pm MST. The discussion is expected to center on social media's role in these events.

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Wieseltier: The United States forms an indispensable pillar of support for Israel. Israel's security policy under Netanyahu has been a security wall and a war every three years. Diplomatically this equates to "one quiet wink after another until the end of time." And this isn't progressive or responsible.

Friedman: How did we get here?

Wieseltier: Israel is a very old country now in that all the realms of life work well except the political one. Politically it's bursting with fatigue and pettiness. My surest barometer of the peace

process is how much the settlers are panicking.

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Friedman: One of the things that worries me is that, because of the Arab uprisings, Egypt, Lebanon, Etc. may become more internally focused. And this may lead the Palestinians and Israelis to be more focused on one another. This could result in a third intefadah.

Wieseltier: Palestinians are also watching these uprisings, seeing other states gain independence, and essentially getting antsy. The political instincts of the Jews has been toward vertical alliance (eg. allying yourselves with rulers and others in places of political power).

Friedman: "Stability has left the building." Speaking of Tahrir square: the first thing these people did was burn down traditional government symbols of power. And this represented an "up with me" moment.

Wiesaltier: The first people to come to Tahrir Square did so because Mubarak shut down the internet -- they had to leave their apartments.

Friedman: A couple weeks ago he returned to Tahrir. Met with the Muslim Brotherhood, who, he says, know the Egypt revolution was not their baby. Fundamentally was a grass-roots revolution. "Life was good for the Muslim Brotherhood under Mubarak" because there wasn't a progressive alternative to the Brotherhood and Mubarak needed to maintain some semblance of democracy.

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Wiesaltier: "The Arab Spring finally buried Huntington-ism" ... that is, critique of the concept of freedom is either universal or it means nothing at all. There is nothing embarrassing about believing in freedom as a universal pursuit.

Tahrir was such an epiphany. And we should be wary of having too many epiphanies because they become an end in themselves. What do you do after an epiphany? How do you come down from that?

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Q: "Can you address the issue of women's issues in the egyptian election? It seems like the kind of wedge issue many women could coalesce around and turn into a legitimate movement."

Wieseltier: One route is to await an internal reform within Islam -- lenient fatwahs, etc. This doesn't mean reforms excluded from the public space. Another route is constitutional reform that opens a secular, open, public sphere. Internal developments within religion take a long long time, if ever

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Q: "Could you comment on Israel's secure borders and the right of return?"

Wieseltier: I think some arrangement can be made for the right of return, but the whole point of partition is that it implicitly realizes that both parties have a right to the land. In a situation like this, the only way to have peace is to suspend the argument from rights -- and partition does this. In the context of a two-state solution, which needs affirmation, some of these things can be worked out.

Friedman: A final settlement has to meet two conditions. One is recognition of individual states' aspirations. The second is a complete end of claims to property.

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Q: Could you speak to Iran, and Iranian nuclear capability?

Wieseltier: Iran's nuclear program is already under attack. While the nuclear clock seems to be ticking faster than the democracy clock in Iran, the existing structure seems fractured beyond belief. What was a theocracy has now become thuggish. What happened in Tehran in 2009 cannot be put back into the bottle. Prague's revolution took 20 years... things take time. I genuinely believe that democratic reforms have started in Iran.

Friedman: These regimes break from the top and while we already see this happening, at the end of the day "bang bang beats tweet tweet." Second, Iran and Iraq are predominantly Shiite and there's a large amount of travel between the two. If we can make Iraq work, this will place enormous pressure on Iran to democratize.

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This session, "The Obama Presidency and the Future of the American Dream," features Arianna Huffington and Michael Sandel. The panel is moderated by Jeffrey Rosen.

The focus here will be the "perennial gap between ideals and institutions."

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Huffington: Obama has the capacity to turn politics into an emotional creature -- the politics of the common good are shifting. Poll numbers back this up, but despite Obama's soaring speeches, the action hasn't followed. And all this is happening in the context of a collapsing American dream... Obama is demonstrating "the fierce urgency of later" when we need "the fierce urgency of now." We need emphasis on job creation, upward mobility (of which the U.S. is #10 globally -- behind France).

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Sandel: In the 90s and forward, politicians tended to make peace rather than challenge financial institutions. Sandel is quoting Brandeis... one approach for regulation is to de-centralize banks so that their power is unable to suffocate democracy. This democratic impulse has been lost. Obama's entrance to the White House was in the midst of this crisis -- the result is that policies focused on disaster prevention, and while a crisis was averted, banks were not held accountable.

Huffington: We need grounding. We need to move beyond "left" and "right" in dealing with economic issues. We need a leader to move us beyond political bickering and emphasize growth of the middle class.

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Sandel: The 2008 election partially re-imagined the terms of political discourse. For the past 30-40 years (roughly) the discourse has centered around the concept of a "welfare state" ... the left has pushed for more, the right has pushed for less. And this structure of debate has continued, though it now lacks a broader imagination of the public purpose.

Rosen: Would altering this discourse then require less emphasis on social issues in favor of economic issues?

Huffington: The consensus has already progressed. People worry about their jobs, they worry about their children. Part of the American Dream is the belief that we can work hard and create a future that is better for our children -- and that has changed. The American Dream is now a game of chance. Rather than making things, "we are a country that makes things up."

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Huffington: As we approach the 2010 fundraising cycle the ambiguity of endorsing gay marriage will continue. This is the kind of politics we'd hoped Obama would transcend. How will this affect young voters? Young people are more interested in doing good more than any other generation -- they want to do something, but don't see politics as the correct medium for positive change. She's tying back to the 'Pursuit of Happiness,' and emphasizing the need to give back to communities on a citizen level, not just delegating this role to government.

Sandel: Young people do not lack idealism, but the form idealism takes has nothing to do with politics. Let's reconnect this to politics and governance, or risk draining politics of moral energy and civic idealism. Sandel quotes Tocqueville in pushing for a heightened sense of civic engagement -- the "New England township" as a larger good than the individual. The presidency started at 30,000 feet, and constituents need to help re-focus and engage this conversation. We need a media that can cover more than just an idealogical food fight.

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Huffington: We can have a real debate around these things, I have no doubt that, on the local level, this conversation exists. Instead we are readily caught up in the Balloon Boys.

Rosen: OK, we've indicted politicians and the media, but you're Obama, how would you pursue the gay marriage issue?

Huffington: The time is never right to do what is right. That's where leadership comes in. The Obama administration's current stance is all just public posturing.

Sandel: Slavery was a moral evil. Lincoln knew it. But yet, Lincoln was not an abolitionist -- he wanted to stop its spread, and his larger message was freedom. The mistake liberals have made in the same-sex debate has been an unwillingness to engage with the underlying question. And that is: what is marriage in our society? What is its function? Is it about procreation? There's a flight from moral engagement in our society and these issues need to be aired.

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Q: "We can complain about Obama and what he hasn't done, but isn't it up to us to elect politicians that are receptive to our ideas? If we don't go to Washington and push for this -- if we don't tell our friends, write emails, etc. aren't we partially to blame?"

Huffington: There's no question it's partially about the leader in the mirror. Changing a political system -- as is evident in the Arab Spring -- has to begin at the local level. There's a perfect storm, all involving social media, local involvement, and politicians.

Q: "As we speak about the Obama administration, where is the dialogue about racial inequalities and the inequalities of the poor?"

Sandel: If you look at societal mobility and then add the filter of race, the picture is even worse. Downward mobility occurs more frequently than anywhere else in society.

Q: "It seems democracy has been highjacked by the lobbyists, and it influences how we interact with politicians. Isn't there some way to diminish this?

Huffington: Every year the power of special interests seems to get worse, and there are no lobbies for the American Dream. A lot of the small print erodes what the legislation was originally designed to achieve. This will only get worse after the Supreme Court decision (Citizens United).

Sandel: It's not only a challenge for Obama, it's a challenge for the system as a whole. Until we figure out a way to deal with campaign finance, there's little we can to to mitigate the power of lobbyists.

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