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Campaigns diverge on the purpose of voters

Peter Hahnloser —

During the last presidential campaign, then-candidate — George W. Bush visited a rally in Bellevue across Lake Washington from — college in Seattle, and I went to cover it for the school paper.

It was my choice.

I recall at the time thinking that I wanted to have the — chance to meet, in person, the most ridiculous person to enter national — politics since Dan Quayle. And rallies were an unknown, aside from sound — bites from TV coverage, that I wanted to learn more about.

In the end, Bush was customarily late, and I had to get — back to other duties at the paper before he arrived - but I certainly — discovered a few things about rallies that didn't raise my opinion of — politics.

So meeting with Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Monday was — a refreshing experience.

A planned party

The Bush rally was held late October, the home stretch — of the 2000 contest against Gore, and drew hundreds of people who snaked — around the gymnasium as they waited to get in. Many were holding hand-drawn — signs, hoping to get some air time on national television.

But the view from inside the gym showed far less grass-roots — enthusiasm and far more calculated campaigning. Campaign staffers were — taking the signs brought by supporters, claiming that they were a security — risk to the man who could soon be president.

That's not to say no signs were present once people got — through security - the campaign had created its own crop of what appeared — to be homemade, heartfelt messages meant to show the living room audience — what Bush supporters really thought.

Slogans such as "we [heart] Dubya" abounded as the room — filled up - and it was unclear whether the holder of the "W stands for — women" actually agreed with the placard she was holding.

The media side of the gym was vacant, since the other — news organizations had the resources to cover Bush's arrival at Boeing — Field before following his entourage to the wealthy suburb across the — lake.

On risers still awaiting the horde of camera equipment — and microphones, laminated papers were taped every few feet to delineate — the spots where each network, newspaper and radio station was to report — from.

Not surprisingly, the view from the media side was a far — better way to actually get a shot of the candidate. Hay bales and jack-o'-lanterns — - carved into profiles of Bush himself - were stacked in the corners of — the stage in such a way that we could see the whole setup, but woe betide — the little guy who wanted to get a good view from the cheap seats.

As the band started to play, it became clear that I would — find nothing redeeming about the rally, nothing that suggested the erstwhile — candidate was here for the benefit of anyone but himself, anything but — the right angle for the 10 seconds that would show up at 11 that night.

The supporters were there only because it served his purpose — - and they wanted a chance to meet him, so they were willing to go along — with the plan.

I left in disgust.

A different tone

Kucinich's visit to Ashland could have scarcely been more — different. People brought their own signs, had a chance to gather on all — sides of him, and while, yes, he was running a bit behind, it was because — of a previous engagement with yet more local residents.

He was visibly energized by the response he'd received — by the people who came to his speeches at Southern Oregon University and — the Ashland Food Co-Op. Perhaps when you have nothing to lose, it's easier — to be upbeat - he admitted in nice, direct, clear language that he knew — he has no chance in this race.

Yet he was continuing in the race because he believes — that he speaks for a constituency, and he doesn't seem to use focus groups — to make weekly platform changes. He is simply trying to energize people, — to make them speak out for what they want.

Agree with him or not, it's far more productive to foster — conversation than to stifle people's voices by putting words in their — hands.

And imagine how much more time a candidate can spend meeting — people and listening to their desires when he's not having to worry about — the pace of his sign-painting team.

Peter Hahnloser is the news editor of the Daily Tidings. — Contact him at phahnloser@dailytidings.com or 482-3456, ext. 3021.