Monday 10 April 2006

Did anyone else hear a clip of this on the news on Thursday? I know when I heard it on NPR that evening, my mouth dropped open and I stopped dead in my tracks. But first some background:

Apparently President Bush's handlers have started to develop some sensitivities to rising levels of criticism that he has insulated himself from his critics -- so the President went this week to North Carolina to have a rare unscripted public forum. It was sponsored by the nonpartisan World Affairs Council of Charlotte at Central Piedmont Community College, and the two institutions invited nearly 1,000 people.

Now as we all know, it's one thing (and quite a bit easier!) to criticize the President clearly and rationally in writing, and certainly quite another to do so in person -- especially considering how rare it is that Bush is ever seen in a non-scripted public moment. have to really hand it to Harry Taylor, a commercial real estate broker in North Carolina, who may be the very FIRST person in the last six years to tell the President directly what the problem really is!

(For a Washington Post article containing the text of the complete "dialog", including a somewhat muffled video, go here: )

The core of what Harry said, minus the joking interruptions of the President and the shocked titters from the audience, is something to behold:

"You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food. What I want to say to you, is that I, in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by, my leadership in Washington. I feel like, despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration. I would hope, from time to time, that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself."

The result? Bush, of course, didn't respond by stuttering around or apologizing for all the bad he's done and then promising to resign immediately. But perhaps, as the protestors outside chanted "Liar" and "Worst President Ever," he had a little more idea what in tarnation they were talking about!

Meanwhile, in an interview afterward with the Washington Post, Harry Taylor said he had become an activist in recent years out of discontent with Bush and was pleasantly surprised he was allowed to challenge the president. "I didn't think I'd be let in the room," he said.
Bush hardly won him over, though. "I didn't care about his response," Taylor said. "I wanted to say what I wanted to say and I wanted him to know that despite being in a room with a thousand people who love him . . . there are plenty of people out there who don't agree with him in any way, shape or form."

I say, "Hooray for Harry!" Finally, here is an ordinary, thoughtful citizen with enough chutzpah to take advantage of a rare opportunity and just talk, "mano a mano", respectfully and with carefully measured words, not screaming or shouting, but with conviction and a great deal of courage. I'll bet participants in subsequent public forums will be heavily "screened" from now on, but we shall see...

Clair Hochstetler

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