Obama’s Unscreened Town Hall Audience Is Clean Break From Bush’s Supporters-Only Public Events

Today, President Obama hosted a town hall meeting in Elkhart, IN — which faces the nation’s fastest-rising unemployment rate — to promote his recovery and reinvestment plan. As the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin notes, Obama traveled to relatively unfriendly territory: Obama lost the county to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) 44 percent to 56 percent. Despite that fact, the White House did not screen its audience, who had the chance to ask the president questions:

In a dramatic contrast to former President Bush’s town-hall meetings — which were held almost exclusively in party strongholds, with tickets distributed primarily to supporters — it was first-come, first-served in Elkhart on Saturday [when tickets were distributed]. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained on Friday: “I’ve watched the President do town halls from 2004 through 2008, and the audience has never been hand-picked, and neither have the questions. And we’re not going to start any of that on Monday.”

What’s more, Obama invited two critics of his package along for the Air Force One ride to Indiana: Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who both voted against the bill.

The town hall is just the latest way Obama is signaling a clean break from George Bush, who aggressively screened his audience members, even requiring volunteer service or loyalty oaths before being allowed to attend his events. A few of the most notorious examples:

— In April 2005, Bush’s security detail threw out three people from an event in Colorado, citing a bumper sticker on their care that read “No More Blood For Oil.” White House spokesman Trent Duffy said that if there’s any evidence people might “disrupt the president,” they “have the right to exclude those people from those events.”

— In early 2005, North Dakota residents were refused entry to a Bush event after their names appeared on a “blacklist” of people banned from the event.

— In March 2005, people seeking tickets to a Social Security event were quizzed about their support of Bush and his Social Security plan ahead of time.

Bush even screened the assembled group of soldiers he would meet in Iraq during a 2003 Thanksgiving visit: Soldiers had to fill out a questionnaire asking whether they supported Bush.


Froomkin noted that Obama will travel to another lion’s den tomorrow, when he takes his road show to Fort Myers, FL, a county McCain won by an 11-point margin.


In a post titled “More From The Department Of Not-Bush,” Time’s Michael Scherer noted that Obama, adviser David Axlerod, and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs all spoke on the record with the press during the Air Force One flight.


,Obama underscored the openness of his events today at the town hall: “Here’s the deal on questions: First of all, we didn’t screen anybody, so there’s some people who like me in the audience, some people that don’t, some people agree with me, some people who don’t. It doesn’t matter. We want to take questions from everybody.”