Thursday, August 26, 2004

Is this any way to campaign in a free country?

Hearing Bush took some doing
Nick Coleman, Star Tribune (Minnesota)
August 13, 2004

The president was visiting Mankato and Tim Walz wanted to see him. A teacher who has 23 years of service in the National Guard and who recently returned home from overseas, Walz wanted to hear his commander-in-chief.
He did.
But only after being threatened with arrest and subjected to a political interrogation. Welcome home, good and faithful soldier. You may see the president.
But keep your mouth shut.
(Intolerance is nonpartisan, so I make a standing offer to President Bush backers: If you are quashed by Democrats, I will report it.)
Walz, 40, supports John Kerry. But you don't need to know what Walz believes, and neither did the Bush campaign workers who interrogated him when he went to see the president speak in a Mankato quarry on Aug. 4.
The Bush visit was a huge event in Mankato, which had not hosted a president since Harry Truman. Walz got a ticket without trouble, but others were refused because they didn't seem rah-rah enough, including two teens rejected because they were baby Democrats.
One of the kids had his mom get tickets for the boys, in their names. The mom asked Walz to chaperone the boys. But the kids would not get to see the president.
Only supporters got into the quarry where Bush spoke to a sanitized crowd of 7,000. Not one person carried a sign in protest. But one -- one -- listened without applauding. It was Walz, and his thoughts were his own, unless someone was scanning his brain.
"It was uncomfortable," says Walz, who joined the Guard at 17 and teaches geography at Mankato West High School. "Where else in America will you find 7,000 people who agree on anything?"
Walz is a first sergeant in the 125th Field Artillery Battalion in New Ulm. He returned in April from duty providing security at a U.S. base in Italy. He has too much respect for the office of president to heckle one. But he almost got busted for escorting those baby Democrats.
After riding a Bush bus to the quarry, Walz and the kids got off to go through the metal detectors and have their IDs checked. Bush officials took the kids aside and thoroughly inspected them. When one was discovered to have a Kerry sticker on his wallet, they were ordered back onto the bus.
Walz objected, and he was asked to leave, too. "You're not welcome," a Bush guy said. "Get back on the bus."
Walz said he had a right to see the president.
So you support the president? a Bush guy asked. I didn't say that, said Walz. Then you're an opponent? I didn't say that, either, said Walz, thinking it was nobody's business.
"If you don't get on that bus," the guy said, "you'll be detained by the Secret Service for interfering with a presidential event."
"I don't want to get arrested," Walz said. "My wife will get mad because I'm supposed to pick up our daughter [Hope, 3] and make dinner. Do you really want to arrest someone who just got back from overseas, because he wants to see the president?"
The Bush guys backed down. They said they'd do him a favor if he behaved himself. He ignored the insult. They said the Secret Service was watching him. They let him in.
A week later, Walz is appalled by the freedom-loving citizens who say he shouldn't have gone to see the president.
"The attitude is that if you're not a supporter, why would you go? It's really disappointing. What happened to being able to listen to the other side?"
Walz listened. And made up his mind. On Wednesday, he was named Blue Earth County manager of the Kerry campaign. In case you have forgotten how America works, that does not make him disloyal. And no one can say he is not informed.
Unlike many people, Tim Walz has gotten to see the president.

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