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Bush’s Potemkin Town Meetings

 

Philadelphia, Penn.

President Bush claims he’s holding “conversations” all around the country on his plans to “reform” or “save” Social Security. These purported dialogues with the public take place at gatherings which the president likes to characterize as “town meetings.”

Now as a native of Connecticut, a New England state that prides itself for its town meeting form of local government, and as a reporter who got his start covering such exercises in real people’s government, I have to say that I know town meetings and Mr. Bush, those are not town meetings.

Real town meetings, a form of direct democracy developed by the early settlers in New England in preference to the old European model of representative government that featured mayors and counselors, tend to be pretty freewheeling and rambunctious affairs, where any citizen can attend, speak out on an issue from the floor, and vote on the issue at hand.

As I wrote in an article in CounterPunch two months ago, when I tried to go to one of those Bush “town meetings” that was set up at a community college a couple miles from my house, I found myself turned away by Republican Party goons barring the entrance-something that would never happen at a real town meeting. It turned out that, as with all the president’s “public” meetings on this issue, you have to have a ticket to get in, and those tickets are being handed out only by Republican members of Congress.

No wonder the crowds seem so friendly on TV!

What I’m really surprised at, though, is how passive the Democrats have been about this road show charade.

The huckster ¬≠in-chief, after all, is traveling the country not as a candidate for office, but as the President of the United States. He’s making this tour at taxpayer expense, and he’s holding his meetings in public buildings-in my case at an auditorium belonging to the Montgomery County Community College. But he’s only talking to Republicans. Even people with tickets are being turned away if it appears they may have contrarian ideas, like several people who arrived at one such event in Colorado with tickets, but with a bumper sticker on their car saying “No Blood for Oil.” The president’s GOP goons apparently aren’t just blocking the doors; they’re spying in the parking lot, too.

Why aren’t Democratic senators and representatives screaming bloody murder at this scam?

I asked my local representative, the recently elected Democratic Rep. Alyson Schwartz, when she led a teach-in on Social Security at Temple University.

“Shouldn’t you Congressional Democrats be screaming about not being offered tickets to distribute at these presidential events?” I asked her.

“Well I guess maybe we should be,” she agreed.

That was over a week ago.

I still haven’t heard a word of complaint about it from either Rep. Schwartz or from other members of the so-called opposition in Congress.

Why are these people, who are supposed to be the opposition, so quiet? If Congresswoman Schwartz, for example, had stood outside the auditorium at Montco Community College decrying the inability of her Democratic constituents to get into the building and “dialogue” with the president, maybe the somnolent TV reporters who didn’t even notice or remark on the packing of the hall would have actually reported on the president’s deceit.

Instead, we got reports that evening about how supportive the public seems to be of the president, and how worried people at the event seemed to be about the viability of the Social Security system.

President Bush is a hypocrite of the first order in calling for democracy in the Islamic world and the states of the former Soviet Union while he creates a Potemkin democracy for himself to operate in. But the Democrats who assist him in this stage management effort by remaining silent as they and their constituents are shut out of the debate are perhaps even worse.

They have become a Potemkin opposition.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com