07/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Con Games: Aspen's Big Lie

Why hammer a man so beloved? Why criticize the most popular politician every to walk these particular crags of the Rockies?

One way it is to make sure you don't really know the man, that you won't take the chance of succumbing to his charm. The other piece is to simply see what he's done and what he's become--regardless of what people feel about him.

No doubt the retirement of Sheriff Bob Braudis of Pitkin County, Colorado, at the end of 2010 means he rides off blithely into the sunset after two decades in the saddle, all but untouched by the likes of me and his most vociferous critics. I could go into great detail--and I have--as to the Sheriff's particular disregard for drug laws he doesn't like, and his attachment to his close friend, the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson Jr., and his consistent disregard for actual law enforcement, even as his county became a safe haven for the distribution of controlled substances.

Instead of exhaustive detail, I want to focus on a single moment in the career of Aspen's famous Sheriff, a man likened to a latter-day version of Wyatt Earp. That moment came in his re-election campaign of 2007, when he faced a challenger for the first time. In a televised press conference, a local editor asked both challenger and incumbent a simple question: had they ever taken drugs while employed to enforce the law?

The challenger, Rick Magnuson, said that he had done so only "in Amsterdam" but never in the United States where the drugs were and are illegal. Sheriff Broadis had the same answer.

"In Amsterdam," he said--and everyone laughed, because everyone knew it wasn't true, because Broadis's habits were known far and wide. For that matter he had just checked out of a rehabilitation center after a rehab stint he has never 'fessed up to. All the Sheriff had to do was say that he had the same addictions as civilians, that he had owned up to them, and that he had gotten help. That would have made him a hero, and he would have won by a landslide in any case.

But that kind of honesty would have been difficult for the Sheriff, because he would have had to repudiate the life and the lifestyle for which he was so famous. On some level he would have had to repudiate his friend Dr. Thompson, and the gonzo lifestyle. He would have had to say he was wrong about many things he believed in and lived by.

This he simply could not do.

In the past I have excoriated the Sheriff for his shortcomings, but now I'm seeing The Big Lie a little differently: I'm blaming the Aspen community. God knows how many people could have come forward to repudiate the Sheriff, but none did. Neither newspaper followed up on an obvious whopper. Most of the people in this community gave the Sheriff a pass, and then 85 percent of voters put him back in office.

Since then Sheriff Bob Braudis has been all but missing in action, hospitalized in Denver and then in Aspen after an extended tour in Europe ended with his health in serious jeopardy. He stepped down, thank goodness and thank God, and so there's no reason to lie ever again.