Preaching to the Choir

At a White House press briefing earlier today, a reporter asked how the president can claim that he is holding an open dialogue about Social Security when his events have more or less been pro-Bush rallies. Press Secretary Scott McClellan readily disagreed with the reporter, stating, “[T]he President is reaching out to all Americans.”

But McClellan doesn’t address the recent situation of more than 40 individuals — including “a city commissioner, a liberal radio producer, a deputy Democratic campaign manager, and a number of university professors” — being blacklisted from the president’s North Dakota rally — uh, speech. And though the White House denied a connection to the list, this administration has a history of forcing people to pledge their loyalty before making it into the audience.

And of the people who are able to make their way through the door, most have a tendency to get caught up in praising the president rather than questioning him. Here are some “questions” from recent events:

In North Carolina: “I just wanted to let you know that as a young person, I think it’s very inspiring and encouraging to see how much confidence you have in my generation’s ability to make decisions. (Applause.) And I think that your plan to strengthen Social Security is just another reflection of your high level of trust and respect for the American people, and I wanted to thank you for that. (Applause.)”

In Montana: “I have one — I kind of have one question for you. Can you quote Proverbs 17:17 for me?”

And in Florida, there was this harrowing exchange:

Audience Member: First of all, I’d like to say that I’m a volunteer — one of your very loyal and dedicated volunteers in Plant City.President Bush: Well, thank you. (Applause.) Audience Member: And I’m very happy to have you as the President. (Applause.) President Bush: Thank you. Audience Member: Thank you. (Applause.) President Bush: Okay, okay, wait a minute. (Applause.) Thank you very much. I appreciate you saying that. Now, having said that, however — (laughter.) Audience Member: I do have a question. I’m on Social Security. President Bush: Right. Audience Member: And I’m disabled, and I just wondered if there’s going to an intensified program into some of the disability benefits that they have now. President Bush: No. Audience Member: Okay. (Laughter.) Whatever program that you put out for Social Security I’m fully behind it. You have my support.