Democracy Inaction


Inside—or outside—a Cheney ‘town hall meeting’

Rick Lyman of The New York Times wrote a pretty funny piece Sunday about trying to get close to Dick Cheney. Ha-ha.

In “Desperating Seeking Dick Cheney”, the Timesman was miffed that the vice president wouldn’t give a seat on the official plane to a representative of the Paper of Record.

Average citizens have the same problem just trying to attend one of the stump speeches by this 21st century Dr. Strangelove. On TV, Cheney appears to have everyone at his campaign appearances enthralled. But that’s because his adoring crowds are carefully screened.

Faithful correspondent Jimmy Moore of Fairfield, Iowa, tells me that just before a Cheney speech last week in nearby Ottumwa, protesters showed up with such props as a Halliburton lemonade stand selling drinks for $45 a glass and a woman “in Arab clothing” holding a sign that said, “Four More Months.”

The Cheney event was called a “town hall meeting,” but you needed a “ticket” to get in, Moore says. It was clear that the guy with the sign “Here’s Your Hat—What’s Your Hurry?” was not going to get one of those tickets to Cheney’s speech in a industrial park hangar five miles from downtown Ottumwa and carefully roped off from everyone but the screened guests. Some “town hall” meeting this was. The guy’s sign prompted queries from reporters, so he told them, according to Moore, “I’ll bet you the First Amendment that it’ll look homey inside the hangar.” He added, “Bullheadedness is not leadership. Elephants die when they rush into tar pits. And Iraq is a tar pit.”

It turns out that this “town hall” meeting was worse than a ticketed event. Iowa GOP officials told grumbling locals that there were tickets, but Ottumwa GOP officials said there were no tickets. There was only a list, as the Ottumwa Courier later described the undemocratic situation in “Questions Linger About Cheney Access”. If you weren’t on the list, forget it.

And of course the national press corps fell for this crap. The Washington Post‘s Lisa Rein, for instance, described this carefully staged Ottumwa event as a “town hall meeting.”

And so did the White House, whose official transcript starts this way:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Morning. (Applause.) Morning, everybody. (Applause.) Good morning. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Sit down, please.

Cheney fielded five questions—if you can call them that. They were clearly set-ups. The first one focused on them there liberal judges:

Q: We see judges taking the laws and just getting away with them, and they’re making laws instead of enforcing them. How is that going to be addressed?

The second one was about our heroic “war on terror”:

Q: Do you see Russia taking a more aggressive stance and standing more strongly with us as we continue to fight terrorists around the globe?

The third one was a lob to Cheney about jobs:

Q: With all the jobs that are being exported, what are we doing to try to conserve—bringing those jobs back into the United States, and keeping jobs here?

Cheney’s reply, which would have been hooted down if he said it at a real town hall meeting, was this:

Well, the most important thing I think we can do here in the United States is to make the U.S. the best place in the world to do business.

The next question was the softest possible query about the Iraq morass:

Q: Mr. Vice President, I would like to know what we can do as a community to help our military overseas, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan?

That gave Cheney a chance to say this:

Well, the remarkable thing is to get a chance to spend some time with our folks who are serving, or have served, or are just back from over there. It’s the most remarkable group of people you’re ever going to want to see.

Which was the perfect setup for the final “question”:

Q: Mr. Vice President. I’m in the United States Army. I just spent six months in Iraq, and I was injured there in June. And I have been home for about three months now. And I just wanted to say I left supporting you guys, and after being there, I support you guys even more—after seeing what those people had to go through and how they lived. And I ran missions handing out food and water to people there. And having those people—and be there with them for six months is—it was amazing. And I truly understand what we’re doing over there. And I thank you for doing what you did.

To which Cheney replied:

Well, thank you very much for doing what you did. (Applause.) I can’t think of a better note to end on than that one.