I had the good fortune of attending President Bush’s appearance on behalf of Rep. Mark Kennedy at the Minneapolis Hilton this afternoon. Minnesota’s Republican varsity turned out in full force for Mark and the president: Senator Norm Coleman, Foundation for Democracy Chairman Vin Weber, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Jim Ramstad, Rep. John Kline, state auditor Patty Anderson, and host Rudy Boschwitz. I like our team.
Vin Weber noted that the protestors outside signalled the success of the event; he reassured us that there was no truth to the rumor that the Star Tribune editorial board was leading the demonstrations. Less humorously, he observed that the Democrats were reverting to form in their current peacenik turn. He recalled his own days in Congress during the Reagan administration when the heart of the party yearned for the nuclear freeze, “essentially the Soviet negotiating position in Europe.” I remember it well.
John Kline spoke of his fourth trip to Iraq, a trip he delayed until he cast his vote against the cut-and-run resolution in the House. He recalled his visit to his son Major John Daniel Kline, flying Black Hawks with the 101st Airborne Division in-theater. John powerfully noted the sense of mission he felt among his son and his colleagues during his visit.
The president took the podium to a rousing welcome and spoke for half an hour. Although the text of his speech was on the podium, he rarely looked at it, comfortably touching on the themes we had come to hear: the change wrought by 9/11, the progress of the war in Iraq, the transformative power of democracy, the economic recovery and the need for allies in Congress. He asked Minnesota to send him a Kennedy he could work with in the Senate and joked that if Mark’s entire family turned out to vote, the result would be a landslide.
I stood about 15 feet from the president. Observing him up close, I was most struck by his passion and his engagement with the audience. He seemed almost liberated in addressing the Democrats’ cut-and-run attack on the war. When he concluded his speech, he stepped down to shake hands along the rope holding the audience in front of the podium, reaching three rows deep into the crowd.
According to the Star Tribune, state DFL chairman and Rocket Man law partner Brian Melendez took out a twentieth-floor room at the Hilton to respond to the president’s speech. From his aerie at the Hilton Melendez contributed the lame rhetoric of class warfare that is the party’s staple contribution to Minnesota’s civic discourse.