Bill Sammon / The Washinton Post & Jim Morrill / Charlotte Observer – 2006-04-10 23:38:54
Bush Defends Surveillance Policy
Bill Sammon / The Washinton Post
CHARLOTTE, NC (April 7, 2006) — President Bush, told by a critic Thursday that he should be “ashamed” of himself, defended the man’s right to speak and his own aggressive pursuit of the war against terrorism.
“While I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food,” said a man who identified himself as Harry Taylor at a town hall meeting in Charlotte, N.C.
“If I were a woman, you’d like to restrict my opportunity to make a choice and decision about whether I can abort a pregnancy on my own behalf,” the man added.
“I’m not your favorite guy,” Bush deadpanned. “Go ahead.”
Taylor said: “In my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of nor more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency.”
The audience then booed Taylor, but Bush admonished them.
“No, wait a sec,” he said. “Let him speak.”
Taylor continued his criticism of Bush.
“I feel like despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration,” Taylor said. “And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and grace to be ashamed of yourself.”
Bush then launched into an unapologetic defense of his terrorist surveillance program, in which the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international phone calls by terrorism suspects.
“You said that I tap your phones,” the president told Taylor. “You can come to whatever conclusion you want.”
He added: “I’m not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program.”
Bush said his decision to eavesdrop on terrorists grew out of complaints that the government had not done enough to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We were accused in Washington, D.C., of not connecting the dots, that we didn’t do everything we could to protect you or others from the attack,” he said.
The president argued that the eavesdropping program was vetted by government lawyers. In addition, the administration briefed Congress regularly on the legality of tapping phone lines, he said.
“Would I apologize for that?” Bush concluded. “The answer is absolutely not.”
The crowd applauded Bush, who has been holding town hall meetings in recent weeks to bolster his case for the ongoing war against terrorism.
Bush Critic Is Talk of Town
Jim Morrill / Charlotte Observer
CHARLOTTE, NC (April 7, 2006) — Friday was not a normal day for Harry Taylor.
He did two national TV interviews. His phone rang all day. E-mails flooded his inbox. People he never met called him a hero and a patriot. He became a darling of Internet blogs, including one called simply: thankyouharrytaylor.org.
“It’s like I’ve got 10,000 butterflies jumping up and down in my stomach,” he said in an afternoon interview. “It’s been that way for 27 hours now.”
A day before, President Bush called on Taylor during a question session after a speech at Central Piedmont Community College. “I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened, by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency,” Taylor told Bush. “And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself.”
“I’m not your favorite guy,” Bush interrupted at one point, waving off boos directed at the Charlotte businessman and giving him a chance to speak.
Even Taylor lauded the president’s gracious response. But his comments made waves way beyond CPCC’s Halton Theatre.
His public scolding was picked up by media from around the country and as far away as South Africa. Even the official Chinese news agency reported it. The media reaction began when a flock of reporters mobbed him right after he left his seat Thursday.
“I felt like I had just hit the home run to win the World Series,” he told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien Friday morning. When she asked if he’d spent a lot of time thinking about what to say if given a chance, Taylor had a ready answer.
“Yes, about six years worth,” he said.
Taylor, 61, is a slender, soft-spoken man with a mop of wavy salt-and-pepper hair. He runs a commercial real estate business out of a one-room office off Morehead Street. It’s an unpretentious setting, lined with architectural drawings and renderings and a Charlie Chaplin wall clock.
A divorced New Jersey native, he has lived in Charlotte for almost 20 years. He’s president of the Charlotte Folk Society and has spent more time playing the banjo and mandolin than in political activism.
He’s an unaffiliated voter and says he hasn’t belonged to a political party for three decades. His political involvement began a few years ago through his membership in the Sierra Club, and he has spoken out about environmental and other issues.
It was through his membership in the Charlotte World Affairs Council that he scored an invitation to the president’s appearance. A few minutes with a microphone brought an avalanche of response. He said he has gotten calls from servicemen and their families, almost all positive. E-mails to the Observer ran 4-1 in support, though reactions were mixed on charlotte.com.
“He wasn’t a raging liberal just spewing out accusations,” said Stephen Demetriou, a commercial photographer from Maine who read about Taylor on a blog. “There’s a lot of people who share his views.”
Critics, however, called Taylor rude, embarrassing and misguided.
“I thought it was very out of place,” said Dean Davidson, a real estate broker from Waxhaw. “I could hear the pacifism in his voice. To me it’s just the same old, same old you hear every day; criticism of the administration’s policies but never a new idea.”
Other critics posted comments on the Observer’s Web site.
“Mr. Harry Taylor made a fool of himself with that retarded speech he made in front of the wolrd,” one poster wrote. “Taylor and Cindy Sheenan would make a great couple.”
Taylor isn’t worried about the exchange hurting his business. And Theresa Salmen, executive vice president of the Charlotte Region Commercial Board of Realtors, said developers she met with Friday morning didn’t seem to mind.
“They were really impressed with how Bush handled it, as well as the way Harry had handled his questions,” she said. “Everybody has a right to their opinions.”
On Friday, Taylor juggled all the phone calls and e-mails with a business meeting and plans for a Friday night Folk Society concert at Central Piedmont, not far from where he confronted the president.
So much has happened to Taylor since Thursday he isn’t sure what to expect next. “I didn’t set out to change my life,” he said. “But I’m really passionate about humanity and fairness. …We only come around this way once.”
When things settle down, he plans to write Bush a letter.
“I just want to tell him, `Thank you for listening to me and quieting 900 people down so I could talk,’ ” he said. “And remind him that civil discourse is critical to the successful operation of a communal society.”
“No serious sociologist any longer believes that the voice of the people expresses any divine or specially wise and lofty idea. The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion. It is composed of inherited prejudices and symbols and cliches and verbal formulas supplied to them by the leaders…
— Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928
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