Over the years there have been all manner of gas bags, spooky black bombers, riots and tanks in the streets, missiles on rail cars coyly concealed under tarpaulins, but never until last week had we been under this. Raleigh under fighter cover. A first. Bush was in town, riding in like an emperor shielded by a phalanx of billions of bucks' worth of shrill bullet-fast aircraft, clattering black choppers, and a battalion of local law enforcement--all at the bidding of the candidate and the Republican National Committee.
It was one of those summer days so hot that squirrels walked, so hot that everyman, from the candidate to the reporter easing along Hillsborough Street, seemed to feel a craving not for water, nor a soda, not a cold beer, but lemonade. There really is a little of George in every man. And it was perhaps as a nod to his aw-shucks allegiance with NASCAR dads that the President arrived in a simple style, opting for the more reasonable 757 instead of the big bird. We are, after all, at war.
After a taxing 13-minute high-five necessary to write the visit off to the taxpayers, the President called it a day. "Look, you look awfully hot, and I think it's time for us to go to the next event. Thank you." http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/07/20040707-3.html
So it was on to the North Raleigh address of Clifton Benson to hunker down for a good ole country fund-raiser: cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, heirloom tomato salad, shrimp and grits, corn muffins and red, white and blue tarts. The take, $2.35 million, plus comped fighter cover and the obliging armada of Crown Victorias poised to deter any band of adventurers venturing behind the lines to remind the President that there are others out here. While one may be under the belief that the shoulders of N.C. highways are held in common, on this day, that was a quaint pre-9/11 delusion. At least if one were with the loyal opposition. The News & Observer noted that security concerns "didn't stop hundreds, if not thousands, of his fans from showing up at the airport and lining the motorcade route."
But of the hundred or so Democrats that headed toward a designated site at Six Forks and Durant, there was a different sort of reception: Police mustered to shoo them off. Bridgette Munger, 41, of Raleigh was told by officers that they had to retreat beyond the shoulder and ditch bordering Durant past the property line. She was then threatened with arrest for trespassing unless they retreated to a protest pit a quarter-mile away. "I don't know if they were Bush supporters or not," Munger says of the police. "But they certainly were hostile. They were looking for anything they could find."
Enough dawdled during the forced exodus to greet Bush, who reportedly waved and smiled until a bewildered expression flickered on his face and he sank behind the thick, dark glass into the deep seats.
By 3 p.m., the jets had howled away; Bush was on to another session in Michigan at the home of Detroit developer J. Michael Kojaian, who has raised more than $300,000 for the two Bush-Cheney campaigns.
Will Rodgers observed that he didn't belong to any organized political party, he being a Democrat notwithstanding, and the sweat soaked remnants of the welcoming committee decamped en masse to the shaded cool of the Capitol grounds, where they were joined by reinforcements. The crowd swelled to 300, give or take. "Two-hundred and eighty-seven," counted Matthew Danielson, of USDems.org.
A march mobilized fitfully, jerking and jamming together until a flow was established. The well-mannered, boisterous parade took up spontaneous chants and cheers, passing motorists blaring horns in support.
Police, some on horseback, most on bicycles, ran perimeter, although who they were protecting against whom, one was never sure. These weren't any skinny black-clad window breakers. The marchers were for the most part ordinary people, some young, some middle-aged, some actual children, whose worst crime may have been goofy sandals and bad hair.
Sometime in the past, an order came down from the cosmos that cops can no longer smile. They were as distant and empty as if they were carved out of putty, expressionless, the entreaties and peace signs of small children conjuring neither emotion nor recognition. They could have just as easily been shunting the parade into a stock pen.
"Move along, close it up," an officer muttered to the reporter, cranky from the heat. The reporter hissed an oath, his response undercut perfectly by two small children on bikes, weaving down the sidewalk and cutting through the group.
In Moore Square, the barely suppressed outrage over the day's fraud spilled out from some. "So let me get this straight," said Chris Lizak of Raleigh. "Iraq is in flames, heroin production in Afghanistan is greater now than it was under the CIA in the '80s, the House of Saud is in danger of losing control of the oilfields, Osama is at large and ready to disrupt the next election, and our security dollars are still being spent protecting Bush fund-raisers? Somehow I get the sense that Bush isn't very serious about establishing new priorities in the post-9/11 world. It's the same old Lincoln bedroom stuff in the face of unprecedented national crisis."
Eventually, the rally disbanded to the cool of Greenshields for a $2.50 prix fixe and beer. They stood in line, a random assortment of T-shirts bearing the names of now-obsolete candidates. The reporter measured their carriage and demeanor. Nice folks, it seemed. So pleasant and reasonable that he fancied that if he squinted long enough, he could almost see the word "target" beginning to glow upon their foreheads.