“It was a great day for the City of Portsmouth,” Richard Bussa began his article in the Community Common following the recent visit of President Bush to our river city. I disagree strongly. I believe September 10, 2004, in Portsmouth, Ohio, was a poor excuse for democracy. September 10, was, as far as democracy goes “a miserable failure” – to borrow Representative Dick Gephardt’s characterization of the president himself.
The Bush campaign chose Shawnee State University because it was, like Bible colleges and military institutions, a safe venue. When Bush’s twin daughters were graduating from Yale and the University of Texas last spring, he did not go to either of those graduations because his mere presence was likely to provoke massive protests over the Iraq War.
At Shawnee State University , the Bush campaign, with the cooperation of local Republicans, were able to stage one of those surreal Republican fantasies in which Bush and his most enthusiastic and carefully screened supporters were insulated not only from his miserable record on the economy, Iraq, and the environment, but also from the unpleasant realities of Portsmouth – from poverty, unemployment, prostitution, drug dealing, and political corruption, problems that prompted local voters recently to throw out a corrupt and inept Republican mayor by a 2 to 1 margin in a special recall election.
I joined those protesters who gathered in a small median set aside for protestors at the edge of the university. If there was one place Bush and his entourage could be guaranteed not to drive by it was that small reservation in which the white leaders of Portsmouth succeeded in penning dissenters, who were warned not to move from the site, certainly not in the direction of the insulated incumbent and his followers. The protestors had to satisfy themselves with exchanging chants (“Four more years!” versus “Three more months!”) with a group of young Bush supporters who were allowed to mix with and taunt the protesters. One anti-Bush protestor was arrested. A few people who witnessed the incident said he was not doing anything to warrant an arrest. The biggest (literally and figuratively) trouble-maker and loud-mouth among the Bushies, who said he was a student from Rio Grande, was sought out by a reporter for the Portsmouth Times. “Instead of being out here protesting,” the Rio Grande student said very angrily (I was standing right beside him), “why don’t they go look for a job?”
I am sure most of the millions of unemployed and underemployed in America and Appalachia would gladly get fulltime jobs if they could, but the Rio Grande student and president Bush refuse to acknowledge that during his administration there has been the greatest loss of jobs since Herbert Hoover, the last Republican president to visit Portsmouth. Hoover gained a kind of infamy for his refusal to face the reality of unemployment, poverty, and social unrest in America. Hoover kept on insisting that we had turned the corner, that new jobs and prosperity were just up the road, even as millions of desperate Americans took to the road in a futile search for jobs. When they got mad enough, they joined in protests against a Republican presidents’ bankrupt policies and elected a Democrat president. We hope to follow that precedent.