The Grim Reaper awaited President Barack Obama’s arrival at Texas A&M University last week. No, he wasn’t the Brad Pitt, Meet Joe Black version of Death. This cloaked fellow was a member of the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT), an organization of young people advocating for conservative values. Last year YCT gained national attention after an anti-Obama carnival on the A&M campus during which students threw eggs at a picture of the then-candidate. In this case, the egg-free Mr. Reaper did not come to make a case for the death penalty but instead to protest socialized medicine.
Joining Death were more than 500 people from various Texas organizations, all gathered on campus at Spence Park to protest different aspects of the president’s policies. Very few were there in actual opposition to the point of his visit—a presidential forum on community service hosted by former President George H.W. Bush.
In an open letter released to the “Texas A&M Family” earlier in the week, Bush 41 shared his pleasure in welcoming the President: “This is not about politics. This is about the importance of service to our communities and our country.” To the Samuel Adams look-alike in Reeboks and revolutionary garb, however, community service translated to “compelled national servitude.” No worries, Sam. The 13th amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude back in 1865.
Once the President arrived, his route from presidential helicopter to the forum avoided the park, but the mere proximity to him was fuel for the crowd’s chance to be heard. The park was covered with handmade signs and “Come and Take it” and “Don’t Tread on me” flags. The voices yelling “Hands off Texas!” and “Beat the Hell out of the liberals!” echoed under the blue sky.
Save for a heated argument between a few brave “Aggies for Obama” and some passionate “Rush Limbaugh for President” folks, the rally was just like any single-minded, large group protest. The tea party tribes preached along with the choir of conservatives who evangelized with their pamphlets and pocketsize constitutions.
The Grim Reaper—joined by fellow YCT member, “Dr. Obama,” clad in an Obama mask, white coat, and scrubs—handed out flyers about the consequences of the public health care option. “Socialized medicine will increase deaths,” he said. “It will deny patients access to choose their own health care.” When asked how health reform will increase deaths he robotically repeated, “It will deny people the right to choose their own health care.” Wait, how?
In that type of atmosphere, there was no real opportunity to play devil’s advocate. There was no affirmative side versus a negative side. There was no cross-examination. Any attempt to question a protestor’s charges was typically interrupted by a fellow sign-bearing participant yelling out the catchphrase scrawled on their poster. It was free speech. It did not have to sound fair to everyone. Nor did it have to pertain to the president’s visit.
“It’s unfortunate that today has to be a day for volunteerism, but we all have jobs and we can’t go to Washington so this is our chance to have a protest that we hope the president will take note of,” said Mark Boldger, a small business owner and member of the Burleson County Tea Party, and a scheduled speaker at the rally. His sentiment is fair enough, and perhaps protesting on a day promoting community service adds emphasis to their passion to be heard despite the circumstances. Like protesting with your assault rifle on a day devoted to veteran’s issues.
A few blocks from Spence Park, as the presidential forum wrapped up inside the Rudder Auditorium, the remaining protestors had congregated at the barricaded corner across the street. Forum attendees filed out in their business attire from what was described as a respectful, peaceful presentation in which the president received a lasting standing ovation. On the opposite side of the barricade, groups of forum attendees stopped in their tracks. One by one their cameras came out of their pockets to photograph the free speech spectacle, and overhead Marine One flew away with the President.