George Bush is the third president I have seen in person and the least impressive.
But how to explain the outright hostility of the Republicans who surrounded me on the floor of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center? Could they read my mind?
No, it must have been the Mission Not Accomplished bumper sticker on my chest or the Kerry for President bumper sticker I held up.
A Young Republican in a Wolf Pack baseball cap trailed me for several minutes before arriving at my elbow.
“Sir, I saw your John Kerry sign. You’re going to have to leave.”
“A lot of people have political signs around here.”
His supervisor, wearing a fake sheriff badge, told me, “This is a private event.”
“I was invited.”
“Can I see your ticket?”
I held it out to him, but I wouldn’t let him touch it.
“OK, you’re going to have to come with me. Please step this way.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Then I’m not moving.”
The big guns arrived in the form of a plainclothes Secret Service agent. The dark suit asked, “Is he causing a disturbance?”
“No.” I was surprised by the honesty of the Young Republican with his fake badge.
“Then you have to leave him alone,” the agent said.
God bless America! God bless the First Amendment!
I wanted to say, “Look, fellas, I used to be one of you. Let’s talk. Please step with me toward the light. And lighten up.”
Instead, I missed the name of the speaker (the only one I didn’t recognize), but I cheered on her victory cries for the American freedoms we enjoy.
I decided I might not pull out the protest poster I had smuggled past the nation’s finest security force.
George Bush was late. Outside a man with a “Jail to the Chief” sign joined other protesters under the Nevada sun. A KOLO reporter estimated the protest crowd at 600 to 1,000. Inside, more than 9,000 folks awaited the president. The tension mounted as so many Nevadans collectively wondered whether he would pronounce the state’s name correctly or say once again, “Ne-VAW-duh.” Then he finally showed, and he got the state name right, and he even made a joke, pointing to someone in the crowd. “You didn’t think I’d get it, did you?”
The rally was on.
I managed to contain my enthusiasm until the rally was over. The hypocritical comments and unintentional ironies in the president’s speech went unremarked on by this reporter. When Bush said America could compete in a free market “anytime, anyplace, anywhere,” I didn’t shout, “Except in Pennsylvania, where you’ve protected the steel industry for political reasons with an illegal tariff.” When Bush said, “What I believe is when you say something you better mean it,” I didn’t respond, “Except for your campaign pledge to let science decide the fate of the Yucca nuclear-waste repository.” When he said, “The other side has not offered much in the way of how to win the war,” I restrained myself from trumpeting, “That’s because you got us into an unwinnable war, Einstein!”
In fact, I took the high road by not commenting on his glaringly hawkish nose or his bobblehead-doll laugh to the good Republicans surrounding me. A young woman with an “Up Yours, Bush!” T-shirt asked if she could stand next to me because she didn’t feel safe.
When the rally ended, however, a woman got my goat. She yelled at some protesters who had been standing in the hot sun for several hours, “Get a job!” The young boy with her took up the chant, “Get a job!”
“Hey,” I shouted in the free air (where I likely wouldn’t be arrested, mind you), “what have you been doing all day? That’s a nice lesson to teach your son, that political protest equals joblessness.”
She took the high road, apparently silenced by my pedantic chiding. One rallied Republican thought that my suit jacket needed patches. I couldn’t tell if this was an insult, and I didn’t inform him that patches on Italian silk would be gauche. Another rallied Republican, holding his wife’s hand, yelled over, “He’s sure got a nice ass!”
Now I was momentarily stunned. Then I shouted back, feeling all warm and fuzzy about the American political process, “You mean me? Thanks!”