Wrong Lesson from McCain's "Town Hall"

11/13/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain's visit last Friday to the Lakeville (Minnesota) High School just 12 miles south of our home wasn't so much a bad reflection of Minnesota as it was a study in paradox. Unfortunately, the McCain campaign event, mishandled from start to finish, also furnished the worst lesson imaginable for those Lakeville high school students on how our country's constitutional democracy is supposed to function.


Paradox #1: The "Straight Talk Town Hall" was a complete contradiction of terms. McCain's "Town Hall" was simply not open to the people of Minnesota. Even people who lived in the residential housing area right across the street from the Lakeville High School were kept away by armed police guarding the event. Since "tickets required for entry" could only be obtained by volunteering to make 50 campaign calls for McCain (in order to pre-screen who would be allowed in), it turned out that several Republicans from the neighborhood stood on the sidewalk with those of us unwilling to pledge our support ahead of time. At the very least, wouldn't a "straight talker" have the guts to just call the event what it really was: a rally for the faithful? (Significantly the 2000 or so pre-screened as faithful that attended McCain's event in Lakeville amounted to only about 1/5 of the number who turned out for the earlier Mc-Palin appearance in Blaine, Minnesota.)

Paradox #2: Clearly, their goal was to fill the gymnasium with only campaign supporters in order to allow the straight talker to pretend it was a "town hall" while avoiding the danger of any hard questions. But the ploy only partly worked for McCain. Only GOP loyalists did get to ask their questions. That part worked. But the questioners who were called on--like the woman who later revealed that her fear of Obama being "an Arab" stemmed from her volunteer work in McCain's Campaign Office----did make nonetheless for some very tough moments for the Republican presidential candidate. After a week of deliberately ratcheting up the fear and hate amongst his supporters, the hard questions thus posed for McCain were: "at what point have I and my 'lipsticked pit bull' VP choice gone too far?" "At what point will the rest of the country see that inciting our supporters this way is not only sick but dangerous?"

Paradox #3: Although the hostility and hate talk last week emanated entirely from inside the McCain-Palin Camp and amongst their supporters at rallies all over the country, the police focus in Lakeville was, oddly enough, solely on protecting McCain and his supporters' speech. Our peaceful anti-war group, on the other hand, was prohibited from even standing on the public sidewalk in front of the school. In the surreal photo below you can see the ½ mile or so of orange traffic cones, rope and dozens of police and Secret Service guards keeping the real town people out of the McCain event. Ironically, our group--obviously more reflective of Minnesota Nice than the group allowed inside--was prevented from exercising its right to free speech.


Forcing us all the way across the street into what the police termed a "protest zone" was undemocratic and a serious infringement of our First Amendment rights. It made it utterly impossible to have any kind of discussion with the McCain supporters standing in line as occurred outside rallies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other places earlier in the week. Unlike the much better experience we had just three weeks ago outside the Mc-Palin rally in Blaine where we were allowed to exercise our first amendment rights on the bike path leading into the event, it was much more difficult for our message to be heard or even seen by McCain supporters attending the Lakeville one.

So we used some creativity, a kite and our most visible banners to do our best under the weird and restrictive circumstances but this was just not the right lesson to teach those high school students in Lakeville, Minnesota about the value of American freedom of speech and other First Amendment protections afforded by the constitutional form of government our founding fathers fought and sacrificed for.

Country First. Constitution First.