Bush does Reno

Thousands of supporters show up to cheer the president

Photo By David Robert

While 9,700 flag-waving supporters applauded every line President George W. Bush uttered inside the Reno-Sparks Convention Center Friday, about a dozen protesters watched Bush’s talk on a 10-inch TV screen outside.

“With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America—and war is what they got,” said Bush.

“Yay, war,” one heckler said evenly.

“Winning this war requires us to give our troops the best equipment, the best training, the best possible support,” said the president. “That is why I proposed an $87 billion supplemental last fall. Most of that money was going to our troops.”

“And to Halliburton,” said a man holding a “Bush’s a liar” sign.

“He cooks the books,” another chimed in.

“How long is this speech supposed to last?”

“Too long.”

Bush’s Friday campaign stop in Reno marked the second time the president has visited Nevada in a year. Nevada’s five electoral votes are increasingly important in what looks to be a tight presidential race, given Bush’s dwindling approval ratings and a narrow lead over Sen. John Kerry in polls.

Tickets to the event, distributed by a car dealership and an advertising agency, were free to Bush supporters.

Media covering the event were not allowed to interact with the crowd—or use the restrooms or purchase water—without an escort from the Bush campaign. On arrival, reporters and camera-folk were taken to a small media holding pen, guarded by Bush staffers and kept out of the exhibit hall floor by interlocking sets of silver bars rented from Incline Barricades.

Around 1 p.m., loud country tunes (possibly played by a live band not viewable from the media cell) blasted from a loudspeaker: “Come Monday, it’ll be all right.” Over the music, reporters discussed getting interviews with a few of the many well-dressed Bush supporters attending the event. Photographers captured the glee of small, well-behaved children and women in short red dresses.

San Francisco Chronicle political writer John Wildermuth was confident that there’d be plenty of interviewing opportunities after the event, “When they let us out.”

It was a long, warm wait for the president. Coke cups full of ice water were selling for $2.25 to those reporters fortunate enough to land an escort like Monica Chatelle. Chatelle, 53, works as an administrative assistant for a state office. The smiling woman, dressed for the Bush event in white jacket, red shirt and blue hat, said she moved to Reno 15 years ago from Los Angeles. She attends church at Reno Christian Fellowship, where every morning at 6 a.m. you’ll find her praying for the nation. She was so excited about Bush’s visit that she took a day off work to volunteer.

“He’s a Christian and he’s honest,” she said. “He’s not afraid to say what he stands for—a godly country … good morals and respect for each other.”

Chatelle’s nephew is in the military, serving in Iraq. Chatelle supports military action in Iraq for a couple of reasons.

“Why should we sit back and let everyone beat us up?” she said. And even if all Iraqis aren’t involved in terrorist activities, they should be free to choose how to live—just like Americans are, she said.

“Even though they’re Muslims, we help them. That’s the way we are in this country. … They were being terrorized; now they have the choice to have freedom like we do.”

What did Chatelle think of the protesters outside?

“We have the right to do that, too,” she said. “I don’t like it—but that’s their right.”

Around 800 to 900 protesters turned out during the course of the afternoon. By the time President Bush was halfway through with what his agenda listed as “remarks in Reno,” only a few dozen anti-Bushers remained. They carried signs with anti-war slogans. One protester had dressed in a white hazmat-like suit to show how he felt about Bush’s decision to send high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

Bush, who swooped into town half an hour late and left right after the event, didn’t talk about Yucca Mountain. He stuck to such familiar themes as the upsides of war, the booming economy, tax cuts and the bill he signed to spend $300 million on Lake Tahoe restoration.

Bush took several digs at Kerry for what the president characterized as vacillating on issues: “The American president must speak clearly and mean what he says.”

Outside, the hecklers moaned at the irony.

“That’s the quote of the day!”

“Is he on something?” asked a U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam. “This man, he speaks out of the side of his mouth. If anyone has a forked tongue, he does.”

The 56-year-old veteran, dressed in a blue T-shirt and a U.S. Marines ball cap, asked to be called Dove. He drove to Reno from Carson City for the protest. Dove said Bush supporters have been misled by his outward appearance.

“Tell ’em to go to Texas,” he said, “and ask people down there—especially the minorities. They’ll say, ‘Send him back where he came from.’ The man’s a liar. He’s hiding behind being a Christian, but he didn’t even get into office the correct way. If he gets into heaven, I’ll be there waiting to talk to him.”

Bush’s policies that cut low-income housing assistance and food programs, under-fund education and send jobs overseas are not helping most Americans, Dove said.

“Why would any minority in his right mind follow this man? His policies are not conducive to African Americans or any other minority—including the white minorities. … I know that if [Bush] cared, he wouldn’t be doing the things he’s doing, like allowing his corporate friends to make money, tax-free, on the backs of this nation’s workers.”

To Bush’s campaign slogan that claims, "America, safer, stronger, better," the veteran has two words: "Since when?"