The President Visits Frederick – Chapter Two
Once the other greeters had arrived, a member of the White House advance team called us together for a briefing. Nothing is left to chance, and every single movement is scripted. You’re told where to stand, how to line up, and where to go once you’re spoken to and shaken hands with the president.
At the appointed hour, we were taken to the back of the factory, near a large loading dock garage-style door. Next to the door, two large stacks of plywood were arranged in a V-shape. We were directed to stand behind the wood stacks while the garage door was opened.
Soon after the door went up, the sound of large motorcycles was audible. Peeking around the wood stack, I saw four big black Chevy Suburbans roar into the facility. Two of the SUV’s had small American flags on the hood; the other two had light bars across the top with flashing red and blue emergency lights. As soon as the last SUV entered the building, the big garage door slid shut.
We were immediately directed to come out from behind our wooden hiding place, and saw several dozen Secret Service agents jump out of the first and fourth SUV, taking up positions around the vehicles.
President Bush practically leapt out of his SUV, smiling broadly as he recognized Rep. Roscoe Bartlett and his wife Ellen. The president strode over to where we waited, reaching out his hand to Congressman Bartlett. After a few minutes of pleasantries, the president turned his attention to Frederick Mayor Jeff Holtzinger. They had met before, and President Bush seemed pleased to see Jeff.
Next up was Senator Alex Mooney (R., Frederick/Washington). President Bush’s advance team included some folks who knew Alex, and Senator Mooney told the president that he once been Rep. Bartlett’s driver. President Bush turned back to the Bartlett’s and mentioned that Alex was an “up and comer,” something I’m sure Alex wished had been caught on camera. No worries, Alex, The Tentacle was there!
I was next, and President Bush turned his attention to me. After I introduced myself, the president asked, “Aren’t you in session now?” After confirming that we were, he inquired “Then how come you’re not down in Annapolis.” My answer, seemingly obvious, was “because you’re here, Mr. President!” He seemed to enjoy that, and laughed heartily.
I was impressed that he spent the most time not with the politicians, but with Bill Wright, the owner of the company, and his family. He told Bill that he wasn’t so much interested in a detailed tour of the factory as much as he was meeting the employees. And meet them he did!
The president spoke to and posed for photographs with every single person who worked for Wright. From the welders to the technicians, from the managers to the clerks, the president took time to share a moment with everyone there. Sure, he posed for some cheesy shots operating a stand-up mower. In fact, I got to operate the mower after the president, but by then all of the media was gone, trailing the leader of the free world.
A friend of mine from Brunswick, a great young man named DJ Droneburg, works for Wright. We got a chance to speak after DJ had met President Bush. That was instructive for me, since DJ doesn’t normally get a chance to hobnob with political “big whigs.”
He was very excited, and mentioned the thing I hear most often from people who meet the 43rd President of the United States. “He’s so down-to-earth, he seemed really interested in us” was DJ’s assessment of George W. Bush.
Exactly the same sentiments that led voters to select him as the person they’d most like to sit and have a beer with, when offered the chance to meet Mr. Bush or either Al Gore or John Kerry.
The president walked quickly through the factory, stopping long enough to speak for a few minutes with a large media contingent about the power of tax cuts as a way to stimulate the economy. Bill Wright purchased some very expensive factory equipment with the last round of tax cuts, evidence that these strategies can lead to job production and economic expansion.
President Bush met a few welders, and of the group, a handful were immigrants to this country from South America. The president spoke to one of them in fluent Spanish, and they really seemed to animate while he was with them.
After he left that area, I spoke with two of them. Both are documented workers, here legally, and both speak fluent English. I asked what they thought of the president speaking to them in Spanish, and both were impressed that he recognized that one of their colleagues had a little more trouble with English than the others, so it was nice the president knew that and was able to accommodate him.
He was gone as quickly as he had come, whisked away from the factory to Frederick Airport for the short trip on Marine One to Camp David. The sophisticated security apparatus was broken down and packed away in less than an hour, and the agents, officers, and accompanying press corps disappeared in a swirl of snapping cases, pulled cables, and collapsed tri-pods.
I know that President Bush is not the most beloved chief executive in American history. I’m certain there are people who would have turned down the opportunity to greet him personally and shake his hand. The way I view it, he is arguably the most powerful person in the world. His words alter fiscal markets and are analyzed by world leaders for the subtle intent.
Making a personal connection, even just for a few fleeting moments, is an opportunity I wouldn’t have missed. I wasn’t alone, either. Workers from businesses throughout the Wedgewood Business Park lined English Muffin Way and Route 85 to get a glimpse of President Bush. He accommodated them with a constant wave as the motorcade departed the facility and area.
It was an honor to spend part of my day with Mr. President.