Last week both John Kerry and George W. Bush hit Portland, Ore., for campaign stops. The manner in which these two men met the people they seek to lead as president—and the manner in which the people met them—says far more about the candidates, their campaigns and the state of the nation than the endless and senseless debate centered on, of all things, John Kerry’s Vietnam War experience.
To understand the “special relationship” that President Bush has with Portland, you would have to recall what happened the last time he dared show his face there. It was almost exactly two years ago, in the run-up to the Iraq War, and the streets were filled with some of the largest crowds of protesters in the city’s history. The streets were also filled with thousands of cops in full body armor and riot gear.
The result, called “The Battle of Portland” by the city’s newspapers, was an ugly scene that was fortunately captured on-camera so the world could see how America handles freedom within its own borders. Perhaps you recall the photos of grandmothers holding “No War” signs being choked by black-armored police officers with their nightsticks. Or mothers with babies on their backs being drenched with dense clouds of pepper spray while students and citizens were clubbed to the ground for doing nothing more than trying—trying mind you—to exercise their Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.
President Bush was, as is his habit, carefully sequestered from the mass protests of his policies. Nonetheless, he had the nerve to dub Portland “Little Beirut” because of the protests.
Needless to say, the people of “Little Beirut” haven’t forgotten, and neither, apparently, has Bush’s phalanx of handlers, because his visit last week was not announced until 24 hours before his plane landed. Just to make sure he didn’t run into any significant concentrations of the people who compose Oregon’s seven electoral votes, Braveheart Bush held a quickie stop at Terminal 6 of the Port of Portland, which had been closed to the public. Here, the nation’s visionary leader made promises about dredging the Columbia River, despite the disastrous environmental consequences such action may have for spawning salmon runs.
Then, under heavy Secret Service cover, the president was rushed to a similarly closed-to-the-public high-school auditorium in Beaverton, a decidedly upscale Portland suburb. There, hand-picked “invitees” politely cheered on their chickenhawk “War President” as he spoke of the importance of small business at a “small business summit.”
Despite the Bush team’s best efforts, however, a small band of citizens found out about Bush’s clandestine visit and voiced its disapproval in protest as Bush was whisked away. Apparently the only incident occurred when the police dragged away a Republican woman who, undoubtedly in a fit of Bush-Cheney patriotism, decided to hit one of the protesters.
Meanwhile, back in “Little Beirut,” John Kerry addressed what has been described as “one of the largest crowds of the campaign.” Speaking from a platform and “surrounded by union workers, war veterans and firefighters,” Kerry was embraced by the enthusiastic crowd on this, his last stop on a nationwide, two-week tour that began the day after the Democratic National Convention formally endorsed his nomination.
It is worth noting that one of George W. Bush’s central campaign pledges in 2000 was that he would be “a uniter, not a divider.” Now that promise seems like a joke. Not since the Vietnam War has this nation been as divided as it is right now. The single cause, without question, has been George W. Bush and the actions, policies and imperial hubris of his administration.
This week, when the Republicans hold their national convention in New York City, we’ll have yet another chance to see the “unity” Bush has brought to America. Thousands of protesters are flocking to the city, promising to take to the streets in an attempt to somehow pierce the gated community of the mind in which George W. Bush lives. New York’s cops, plus as many uniformed troops as the hugely paranoid Republicans require to ensure their safety from their fellow countrymen, will undoubtedly be there in full body armor, with shields, clubs, water cannons and a limitless supply of tear gas and pepper spray.
From all indications, the Bush campaign team—headed up by none other than Montana’s own former Gov. Marc (just say “Rascal”) Racicot—will attempt to convince the nation that the protests are in some way disrespectful of a sitting president. In classic Racicot style, they will try to make it seem as if the problem is with those in the streets, not with those in the White House, conveniently ignoring our Constitutional rights to not only disagree with our leaders, but to actively seek their removal from office.
Blaming citizens for Bush’s failures is nonsense, of course, but most of what the Bush administration has foisted off on America since its illegitimate junta took control of the nation has been nonsense. As we now know, Iraq had nothing to do with the Al Qaeda attacks, nor were there any weapons of mass destruction—the list of lies goes on and on.
Last week’s visit to Portland by the two presidential candidates said much about their differences. Bush was secretive, secluded, scared and shielded, while Kerry gregariously spoke in public, open and accessible to those he seeks to lead.
These differences reflect the very real choice facing the nation. Under Bush we can continue to become Fortress America, driven to a police state by our leader’s paranoia. Or we can make a different choice and retain the open government and precious liberties that once, before Bush, made us the envy of the world.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.