THE LIAR-IN-CHIEF COMES TO TAMPA BAY
Dubya made his pitch for privitazing Social Security to Tampa Friday. It was no different than his four previous stops, seemingly scripted down to the same jokes with only a small amount of local flavor thrown in. And in Tampa there was no repeat of the incident in Omaha, where a heckler called Bush a liar before being surrounded by white shirted volunteers and taken out of the venue.
But there were approximately 200 protesters --- a large number for Tampa --- who gathered at a nearby park and marched toward the Tampa Convention Center before being stopped short by police. Surprisingly, the demonstration received good play in the local media instead of just a passing sentence or a few seconds of video. The Florida Consumer Action Network and it's FCAN Foundation were the primary organizers of the protest.
The St. Petersburg Times noticed a number of truly close similarities in the five events during Bush's tour:
At each of the five stops on his tour, the White House staged a carefully orchestrated event. There were charts with red ink showing Social Security's eventual shortcomings. A group of hand-selected people invited on stage to bolster Bush's argument, the faces changing at each stop, but always fitting a prescribed demographic. And carefully-picked audiences, absolutely enthralled with their president.
It was a carbon copy of shows in Fargo, N.D., Great Falls, Mont., Omaha, Neb., and Little Rock, Ark. At each stop he told the same jokes, making fun of his advancing age or graying hair. At each stop he thanked his lucky stars that Laura deigned to marry him. And at each stop he wanted to have some "plain" conversation with the audience about Social Security.
The events were billed as "conversations with the president" and "town hall meetings," but Bush didn't speak much to the public. In some cases, including Tampa, you couldn't get tickets unless you knew the right person. In other cases, including Fargo, a limited number of tickets were distributed to the public, but the demand far outweighed the number.
Those in the audience got tickets from Republican members of Congress or volunteers to the Republican Party. One man got his from a friend whose daughter babysits for a Secret Service agent. A college student in Fargo went to a College Republicans meeting for the first time, just for a ticket.
"It is always this staged," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "It's a convenient way to build support. It's not some kind of town hall meeting. This is an event to try to gain momentum. So they are going to look for people who basically have this agenda."
At each stop, the president was joined by four to five people representing different phases of life. There was the senior who doesn't want his benefits to change. The young couple who don't think Social Security will be available to them when they retire. The financially savvy person who understands investment accounts.
Here's a story about the protesters in Great Falls, Montana from the Great Falls Tribune.
The Omaha World reported on about 350 who gathered to disagree with Bush's proposal before, during, and after the event there.
And the Fargo Forum noted that there was actually a list of people who were to be denied access to Bush's event in North Dakota, mainly people from the area's Democracy For America meetup but also people who had written letters to the editor slamming the POTUS' policies on Social Security and our military operation in Iraq.
No word on wheather there was a similar list for Dubya's visit to Florida...but I wouldn't doubt it if there were.