Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Tim Meets the President

My colleague Tim was one of the fortunate few invited to attend President Bush's speech in Marlton, NJ (aka Evesham Township). Tim retired from the US Navy about a year ago, a 20-year Chief Petty Officer (E-7). He graciously gave me a half-hour interview this afternoon. Here's the transcript.

Kate: This was an invitation-only event to see the President...

Tim: That's correct.

K: So how did you get an invitation?

T: Being a member of an American Legion club, I was invited on Friday night--I got a phone call due to the fact that there are very very few retired Navy people in this post. They wanted a retired Marine, a retired Air Force, a retired Army, and a retired Navy to go. And they were given these invitations. I don't know how that came about but...so I was invited through my American Legion post.

K: That's cool. So, what did that mean for your weekend?

T: It was really neat, actually. I knew that he was coming on Monday--they still didn't know on Friday what time, so I actually went on the Internet to look up his itinerary because you can find it, but it just said New Jersey, then Florida later in the day. So I really didn't know what time it was gonna be on Monday. I called the post and they said do this, and that, and that; meet us here and we'll take you there because of the traffic, and because of this, and the security.

The weekend was cool, because I called my Mom and Dad who are die-hard Democrats, and it's like, "Guess where I'm going on Monday!" Well, they're from Minnesota, and that's, you know, Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, all them bone-heads.

K: What would almost be moderate Democrats now, as opposed to...

T: Well, actually my father is leaning towards Bush more than my mother, but he is...he's got more of an open mind. Anyway, so I called them and told them I was going. It was neat! My wife, my wife was like, "ah, okay." She likes George...now she does. She didn't 18 months ago, two years ago, and partly for purely personal reasons. I was in the military: I spent 18.5 months over in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I wasn't at home. So she was not anti-Bush, but she was wondering why it was that this one ship or this one group is over there so much, and whatever. But that was a passing phase and she's over it. She's good to go.

K: Especially considering the alternative?

T: Yes, exactly.

K: Okay. So tell me about Monday.

T: Monday, I got to work and I was pretty pumped up. So I was telling everybody, "Yeah, I'm going to see the President!"

I saw Bill Clinton when he was on (USS) Eisenhower, I don't even remember what year it was, but I was down in Norfolk on (USS) Cape St. George, and we had to go, it was one of those mandatory fun things. So we had to go over to the Eisenhower and listen to Bill Clinton talk about, uh, I don't even know what he was talking about, to be honest with you--defense or something-- something he didn't know nothing about. That's the first time I'd ever been in the same room with the President of the United States. It was a pretty awesome experience, even though you don't have to like the guy but you still have to respect him as your Commander in Chief, or whatever. He had a hell of a handshake, I remember that.

K: Oh, you got to shake hands with him.

T: Yes. So, but that was the first time. And that was in a, I guess, a neutral setting. I mean, it wasn't 1200 Republicans or 1200 Democrats...

K: It wasn't a campaign stop.

T: Right, it wasn't a campaign stop at all; it was in a whole different environment.

So then Monday, about 1100, I left and went down to the post. We got all ready and we drove down to where he was, down in Marlton, to the Rec Center down there. Lots of traffic. Lots of security, which is good, obviously. And we waited to get into the building, and into the room; we had to go through the scanners and all that stuff. So we get in there, probably about ten after one. He was supposed to start at 1:15, but, just like any other political thing, okay, you had to have all the New Jersey--the GOP, the president from NJ, the Marlton Chamber of Commerce, and the whatever, you know. Who knows, right? So we listened to all them people talk.

And then they introduced the President of the United States. It was really interesting, because it was a...it was like a rally. There was a lot of electricity in that air, man. It was just really cool. So he came out, and of course, everybody clapped. And he started giving his speech. He's just--I like George Bush a lot, and I believe in his policies, but it's sometimes very hard to listen to him speak because he stammers--and it's not his fault. You understand what he's trying to say, and it's really cool.

And he--the one thing I can tell you that I took out of there more than anything that you can't see on TV, you can see it on TV but you can't feel it, and that's the passion that this man has for his beliefs. And he seems dumbfounded by how his opponent, how Kerry can say some of the crap he says and believe it! Because it's just ridiculous. But you could feel, I mean, he's totally totally committed to this, and in everything. And it was just, it was really neat to see the Man up there, and he speaks from the heart. He's very passionate about what he says and how he says it. And it may not come out the way sometimes, you know--we all know that, but it, it was phenomenal. It was phenomenal!

And you know how sometimes you hear where there's people back there holding up signs "Clap," "Cheer," whatever? There was none of that stuff. People clapped and cheered or whatever whenever they wanted to. There's several times he was going like this [hand motion] telling people to be quiet, because what he said made sense.

K: He had to shush the crowd.

T: Yeah, I mean, it's not staged, it's not predetermined when people clap and cheer and say "Kerry sucks" and all that stuff that was going on.

K: "BOOOOOOOOOOOOO."

T: Yeah, booing, that kind of stuff. And it was the end, then he went around, and met everybody. You know I shook his hand. It was cool. I mean, there was only like 1000 people; there's almost half as many media people--CNN was there, all the Philly news stations, MSNBC, everybody was covering it. So, I would say there was probably about 1000 people, you know, and then 500 reporters--not that reporters aren't people, but you know what I'm saying. And the bright lights, and all the cameras and stuff--they had to make room for all the cameras, and the media, and et cetera, et cetera. Yeah, there was half as many reporters and journalists as there were people.

K: So how does the President's handshake compare to that of Bill Clinton?

T: Oh, it's the same! ... His presence, though, you know, is--the difference between Clinton and him? Clinton was a big guy, he was a big guy. And you expected him to have a hearty handshake. But Bush, is not nearly as built, as big, but still has a hell of a handshake! It's nice. 'Cause when I was sitting with the other guys, standing with the other guys, and we said, you know, "Hey, we're veterans, and we appreciate what you're doing" and he just shook his head and said "Thanks." And away he went. So it was cool.

We do appreciate what he's doing. I don't know what anyone else would think, but ... He got done and shook hands; I think he must've shaken almost everybody's hands because he just kept going around and stuff.

K: That's nice.

T: It was nice. And away he goes. So that was it. And we went back to the American Legion, had a couple of beers, talked about what we saw, and what we heard, and that was it. So, it was very exciting. I was pretty pumped up!

K: Good! What did you take away from it in terms of ideas or concepts, key thoughts?

T: I guess it was a little different, because being in New Jersey, one of the main things he discussed was--since there were so many people who got killed in 9/11 that his main focus was talking about the bill he just signed yesterday, about checking containers coming in--all the stuff that Kerry says we need to do has already been--obviously it takes more than two weeks for a bill to go through Congress and get signed. Obviously, he's had this stuff on the table for a long time.

K: It's the 2005 [Homeland Security] appropriations bill, I believe.

T: Right, so it's still been on the table a long time. He talked a lot about that. He talked about the war. He talked about the fire departments and the police departments and appropriations for those guys, to bolster them. And what I took away from it is the same thing that I've been hearing from him for a while. And it's the stuff you want to hear, and the good stuff. His whole thing was "a Safe America." That's it.

The major thing I took away from him and that speech, is when he started talking about in 1991, when Kuwait was invaded, he--his father, obviously was the President--but in that year, the UN, and about 75-80 countries, in a coalition, all said, we need to go kick him out of Kuwait. George Bush said even, even with all that going on, John Kerry still voted against sending troops into Kuwait to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And he said, he talks about his global test--how much more of a global test can there be when there are 85-90 nations all saying, and the UN, all supporting this, saying let's go do this, and the man still says, "No. No."

I didn't know that. I took that away. And I said, you know what, is this rhetoric? I went and looked; 'cause you can look up their records...

K: Which is much easier nowadays even than it was four years ago.

T: So, you know, it's like, he voted nay. He didn't vote to send our troops to kick them people out of Kuwait with the passing of the "global test". So what the hell's his global test? That's what I took away from that whole speech; that more than anything. If I was on the waver(?), if I was undecided, that to me would tell me right now that we're in trouble if he becomes President of the United States, we're in trouble. We had 90 nations say yes, let's go kick Saddam out, and he still, as a Senator, said no--one of very few that said no.

So what is his test? What has to happen in order for him to keep us safe? And it's not a scare tactic. It's reality now. It's not scary. And that's another thing I got out of it: he's (Bush) is not scaring people, he's telling people the truth. And people have already forgot about our two twin towers crashing down to the ground four years ago--three years ago. How do you forget something like that? And that's why we're doing what we're doing. And he keeps telling people that. It would be a crushing, crushing defeat to the terrorists when Iraq becomes a free nation.

Kerry doesn't see it that way, he just doesn't see it. He's not in touch. Kerry keeps saying how Bush isn't in touch with the people--I think he is, he's in touch with the people that need to feel safe in their homes--it's pathetic.

The funny thing is too, this has nothing to do with the speech, but when I got home, I turned on the news obviously, because I wanted to see if I could see myself on TV. I didn't. But watching [on the CNN ticker], this tells you something about our country now, and the way we are perceived: The President of Russia, Putin, put out a statement that said, basically he said that the terrorists are gonna win if George Bush isn't elected in November. The terrorists are gonna win, and all the things that we've done up to this point to stop terrorism is gonna go right down the toilet. That's basically what it said in a nutshell. And I said, now isn't that amazing, and how far have we come when the Russian President, or the Premier of Russia, is endorsing one of our people. Now, that tells me that they know what's going on. World leaders also know what's going on and they have no love, they cannot believe that this man's (Kerry's) even in the running.

K: Well, Yasser Arafat came out and endorsed Kerry.

T: What a shock. Wow. There you go, ya think? I just think that that's an interesting point of view... that Putin thinks that everything we've worked for would be lost if Bush is not re-elected this year. And I have to agree with him.