When George W. Bush visited Nashville Thursday, socialites Cathy and Clay Jackson weren't the only ones who hosted a campaign event for him. Vanderbilt University Medical Center got in on the action, too, in the form of a policy discussion that was more of a Republican pep rally than a "Conversation on Heathcare Information Technology," as it was officially billed.
Any shred of integrity the event could claim vanished when Karl Rove, Dubyah's political advisor, walked into Vanderbilt's Langford Auditorium just before the president's early afternoon arrival. Waiting in the wings, Rove surveyed the stagecomplete with a phony White House backdrop (from the folks who brought you "Mission Accomplished")and looked creepily satisfied with the whole affair.
As well he should have been. Langford's lower level was packed with heavily Botoxed prominent local Republicans and their spawn, leaving Vandy, according to a spokesman, with only half of the available tickets to distribute. And there were dignitaries galore: secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, Senate majority leader Bill "Did I mention I'm a doctor?" Frist, several U.S. congressional members (including crowd favorite Marsha Blackburn) and Mayor Bill Purcell.
When the event began, Bush sauntered onstage amid the frenzy and promptly thanked all his hosts by nameexcept, that is, Purcell, whom he called only "Mr. Mayor" while offering a few words of wisdom. "Fill the potholes," the leader of the free world told the leader of Metro. "That's the only advice I can give you." The audience loved it, but so far no word on Purcell's reaction to the presidential ribbing.
The nation's chief executive then launched into an opening monologue about his administration's achievements with regard to health care reform, specifically prescription drug cost control, and his desire to introduce "health savings accounts" for average citizens and "community health centers" instead of insurance for poor folks. He further advocated medical liability reform, under which doctorsor "docs," as Bush repeatedly called themare protected from many malpractice suits. This idea proved surprisingly popular with the aging Republicrowd.
With Bush, even using IT in health care has religious underpinnings. In a mid-monologue altar call, the commander-in-chief exhorted followers to join "the Army of Compassion, which is changing America one heart, one soul at a time." (It's unclear just what the "Army of Compassion" is.) Rev. Bush even threw in his greatest commandment: "Love your neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself."
But you can always count on godless liberals to rain hate on your parade. And those forces of evil were led (ideologically, anyway) by none other than U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper, who was wearing his welcome hat during the event but who later pointed out that Bush's home state of Texas had some of the country's worst health care problems.
Anti-Bush protester Edward Belbusti piled on, calling the Vandy forum a "charade of an event" and alleging that the president's visit was nothing more than "a fundraising trip that he's writing off at taxpayer expense."
A cynic like Belbusti might suggest that the administration's recent push for IT improvements in health care was nothing more than a tactic to divert the populace from the downward spiral of events in Iraq. He also might note that the administration only hired its much-hyped director of health care IT on May 6right when things in Iraq were reaching new lows. Hardly a longstanding priority, it would seem.
But Bill Frist, M.D., would diagnose that person with pathological anti-Americanism. "First of all, we have a War on Terror," an off-guard Frist sputtered to the Scene when asked about this interpretation immediately after the Bush event. He then proceeded to invoke the gravity of the global situation before rattling off a laundry list of administration accomplishments on health care and AIDS funding. "As a physician, for the first time I can look seniors in the eyes and say, 'Health care security is yours,'" he said. Did we mention Frist is a doctor?
The White House scheduled a fundraiser to coincide with Bush's Vandy appearance, and apparently scores of local Republicans were willing to pay $25,000 a plate to dine with the president at a Forest Hills home. While the event was closed to media, the anti-Bush protest outside was not. Between 100 and 200 people of all ages and several persuasions lined Hillsboro Road with signs in hand to jeer the president and solicit anti-Bush honks from passersby. Approximately 20 came to support the president and, by extension, they said, America.
"We support our president because we support our country," one man said. Apparently, a property owner at the intersection of Hillsboro and Tyne agreed: She refused to let any anti-Bush protesters stand in her yard, engaging in shouting matches with any who came close.
One such protester was Franklin resident Joe Scott, a quiet middle-aged man who decided it was his right to stand in the right-of-way at the front of the property. Police asked him to cross the street and rejoin the anti-Bush folks, but Scott peacefully refused and was eventually arrested and issued a misdemeanor citation for disorderly conduct. "I'm 57, and the vice president of my company and I are here defending my grandchildren, trying to keep them from being killed," said the first-time arrestee. "I was a Republican for years, but I'm not anymore. I'm opposed to war. I'm a Christian."
Bush supporters disagreed. One tall, heavily accented man was heard observing to another that there were "some bona fide Communists" over there. "Lots of 'em are Vandy people who got confused," he explained to his friend. But one thing perplexed him. "There's two soccer mom's over there; I see the dang Jamie Capris on 'em," he said.
"Nashville's got a weird liberal kick, man. It's strange."