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How to practice democracy

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One Associated Press reporter with a penchant for dramatic ledes called it ‘“a moment brought to you by the First Amendment.’”

It happened when 61-year-old Harry Taylor stood up in the balcony of the Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte where George W. Bush was taking questions after a prepared speech on his administration and its policies, most particularly the war on terror and the nation of Iraq.

Taylor stood up and took the mic and something happened that we haven’t seen in a long time: an ordinary citizen took the president to task.

‘“I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food. If I were a woman, you’d like to restrict my opportunity to make a choice and decision about whether I can abort a pregnancy on my own behalf,’” he said.

There’s more.

‘“In my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency, by the Senate, and’…I feel like despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration, and I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself inside yourself.’”

The seats around this man emptied like he was emanating a particularly vile smell. And to some minds, he was.

By now the talk show hosts and spin monkeys have had their way with the incident and no doubt the man and his sentiment have been twisted beyond recognition.

And that’s the way it goes.

But whether you agree with this man or not, you cannot doubt the veracity of his feelings.

You can’t wave them away as party-line propaganda or the words of the lunatic fringe ‘— Taylor says he has no party affiliation and the middle-aged Charlotte real estate broker seems as close to the American mainstream as a single individual can be.

And if you’re looking at this thing with eyes wide open, then you know he is not alone.

On the same day Taylor’s story broke, President Bush’s approval rating dropped to an all-time low. And while we all know he has his supporters, not even old Turd Blossom himself can put a shine on 36 percent.

It’s time for Bush’s defenders and apologists to recognize the validity of the opposition’s claims, to admit the possibility that their man in the White House may not be doing a crackerjack job and to get comfortable with the notion that the people with whom they disagree are not necessarily a bunch of malcontents stewing over the 2004 election. A lot of them are guys like Harry Taylor ‘— successful, soft-spoken, intelligent’… and fed up with the way the ship is sailing.

‘“In my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, or more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency, or the Senate,’” he said.

After the event, 42-year-old Barry Richards from Cabarrus County approached Taylor and shook his hand.

‘“I 100 percent disagree with everything you said,’” Richards said, ‘“but I’m glad you said it.’”

This is still, after all, the United States of America.

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