Remember how we all blew a gasket over Bush making sure people who asked him questions were his loyal followers? Oh, yeah - Obama, too! You may recall that during his most recent "I must have my face on national television as much as is humanly possible" "press conference," he said he would be taking more questions via the internet from us, the people. Just your normal, average, every day Americans who might have some concerns we want to share with our "Compassionate" president who cares all about the little people. (I know - I can barely write this stuff out.)
Except not so much your average ol' American: Obama Town Hall Questioners Were Campaign Backers
President Obama has promised to change the way the government does business, but in at least one respect he is taking a page from the Bush playbook, stocking his town hall Thursday with supporters whose soft -- though far from planted -- questions provided openings to discuss his preferred message of the day.
Obama has said, "I think it's important to engage your critics ... because not only will you occasionally change their mind but, more importantly, sometimes they will change your mind," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs recounted to The Post's Lois Romano in an interview Wednesday.
But while the online question portion of the White House town hall was open to any member of the public with an Internet connection, the five fully identified questioners called on randomly by the president in the East Room were anything but a diverse lot. They included: a member of the pro-Obama Service Employees International Union, a member of the Democratic National Committee who campaigned for Obama among Hispanics during the primary; a former Democratic candidate for Virginia state delegate who endorsed Obama last fall in an op-ed in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star; and a Virginia businessman who was a donor to Obama's campaign in 2008.
Well, I'll be hornswoggled - REALLY?? He didn't choose random people's questions to show all over the internet?? Hell no, he didn't. Did we really believe he would?
Here are their stories:
1. Sergio Salmeron: Self-description at the White House: "My name is Sergio Salmeron. I want to find out about health care."
Salmeron became engaged with the Obama campaign early in 2008, writing on his blog at my.barackobama.com, "We need to mobilize towards changing the trend of '2 to 1 Latinos favoring Hillary over Barack.' Let's make a resolute commitment... Let's put the facts on the table, ask the questions, until we understand how this all applies to us. Then strategize [sic] to get the word out to Latinos in America, who want change as much as everyone else."
He was a volunteer canvasser for the campaign, he told The Post, and did voter registration work and translated materials for the campaign, as well. A partner at Global Paradigm Strategies, Salmeron is volunteer "member of the Democratic National Committee" and continues to be active with the Obama campaign's successor, Organizing for America, which is how he got the White House invite, he said.
"I got a call from this woman who has been working with me for the pledge drive," he said, referring to the Organizing for America drive on behalf of the president's budget proposal. "You know, we're trying to get support out for the president's agenda."
2. Tom Sawner: Self-description: "Sir, I'm Tom Sawner. I'm a service-disabled veteran, small-business owner in Arlington, Virginia. My company, Educational Options, works with public schools."
According to Federal Election Commission records, Sawner made a $250 donation to Obama's campaign on Oct. 27, 2008. He also, as he noted Thursday, served as an adviser on Obama's educational platform committee. He said he was invited to the White House town hall through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Executive Council.
Sawner's no stranger to the White House, either; he attended President Bush's Feb. 2008 signing ceremony for that year's economic stimulus package -- another Chamber of Commerce invite. And in April 2008, he even became an anecdote in one of Bush's speeches.
"And I met a guy named Tom Sawner," the 43rd president said at a small business summit. "Now, he's an old fighter pilot, which means there's no wall he can [sic] run through. He's a doer, an achiever, and he's got him a small business called Educational Options."
But the event with Obama, Sawner said, "was a whole different look and feel" than the one with Bush. "This is a president who is into openness." And he didn't know he was going to be able to ask a question until he got to the forum, he said.
3. Carlos Del Toro: Self-description: "My name is Carlos Del Toro. I served in the Navy for 26 years, retired four years ago, and started a small business."
In 2007, Del Toro stood as a Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, but did not win. A supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries, he backed Obama against McCain in the general, endorsing him in an Oct. 24, 2008 op-ed in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
"As a Virginia small-business owner, veteran, and Latino, I'm voting for Sen. Barack Obama for the same reasons as millions of other Americans: because I believe this country desperately needs change. Obama will change our economic policies to help middle-class families, promote the growth of small businesses, and increase funding for veterans' affairs, so no member of our armed services goes without the medical treatment he or she needs and deserves," he wrote.
In 2008, he donated $2,750 to Virginia Democratic candidates for office, according to the Center for Responsive Politics; in 2006, he gave $1000 to the campaign of now Sen. Jim Webb (Va.), FEC records show.
He also has ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Council.
Wouldn't it have been really funny if, say, Donna Brazile, was one of the people who got to ask the President a question? Sorry - just popped into my head, especially as she is trying to pass herself off as just another citizen when she speaks at the DOJ (Ani has an excellent post on the hubris, and downright insult of having Brazile, that very partisan back-stabber, not-exactly-a-major-feminist speaking on women's issues). Ahem. Sorry.
Here's the rest:
4. Linda Bock: "My name is Linda Bock and I'm a registered nurse just in Prince George's County, Maryland -- been there 34 years at a free senior health center. And I'm here with my fellow nurses from SEIU."
Bock, along with her chapter of the SEIU and her son and daughter, helped campaign and canvass for Obama, she said. After Obama was elected, she wrote in the Landover, Md., 1199 SEIU nurses' newsletter: "Now we have our work cut out for us -to hold our elected officials accountable. And I hope they hold us accountable too. We all have work to do to make the changes needed to restore our reputation, to heal the wounds of war, to repair our earth and regulate its resources; and, to secure our economic future. It will take sacrifice and service. It will take prayer and the grace of God. Now we have hope. We have President-elect Barack Obama. God bless America."
Her invite to the White House came through the Nurse Alliance Leadership Council, she said. And like Sawner, she didn't know until she got to the forum that it was open to the in real life participants. "I did not think we would be able to ask any questions," she said. "I wasn't personally anticipating being chosen to ask anything. We knew that the Web portion was people already lined up."
5. Bonnee L. Breese: "Hi, Mr. President. Thank you so very much for having me, a public school teacher from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, here to be with you.
THE PRESIDENT: What's your name?
Q Bonnee Breese.
THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you, Bonnee.
Q Thank you. I'm from Overbrook High School. I have to say that, because I know all the children are watching. (Laughter.)"
Breese has not donated a reportable amount to Obama, according to the FEC. She is a member of the 11,626-person Pennsylvania for Obama page on Facebook.
A supporter of the president's -- "Of course!" she said -- Breese was invited to the meeting through the American Federation of Teachers union. She sits on the executive board of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Local 3, she said, and is known in her area for being politically engaged.
The sixth in-person presidential questioner, "Ellie" from Maryland, did not give her surname. The White House did not respond to a request for it, but noted there were roughly 100 people in the audience.
"The audience was composed of approximately 100 people, including teachers, nurses, small business owners, and community leaders -- and the virtual audience of thousands across the country who have submitted questions online," said White House spokesman Nicholas S. Shapiro. "The White House reached out to a number of community groups and the chamber of commerce and those groups invited their folks to come and participate."
Oh, yes, I am just so sure they did pick some random people who are simply "concerned citizens" - who believe in supporting everything Obama does. Perfect. What next, a "White House of Chicago, IL"?? Maybe Farrakhan will let him buy his complex to do that. Since it is only a couple of blocks from his current home, he already knows the neighborhood and everything, so it makes sense. Or maybe Rezko can sell him some more property (at a cut rate, naturally) around the house he already has. Just a thought.
Gee - I wonder which Bush-type thing he'll do next??