Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Of Flotuses and Hecklers

One more person finally had enough of one too many politicians pontificating about how we're here for the children.... the Children.... our Children.... We have to do it for the CHILDREN....  when she finally let loose on Michelle Obama and wondered out loud (very loud) why the president has not yet fulfilled his campaign promise to guarantee equal rights for gay employees of federal contractors.

It seems that just hours before a Washington DNC fundraiser yesterday featuring the first lady, Spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged that President Obama would renege on his campaign promise to sign an executive order ending such discrimination . Once again, he would punt an issue back to Congress for its inevitable demise. So, armed with tickets starting at $500, some LGBT GetEQUAL activists attended the exclusive confab on a private estate to GetREAL with Mrs. Obama. From the pool report:
Most notable part of the event was an interruption from a protester (later identified as Ellen Sturz) about 12 minutes into the 20-minute speech. A pro-LGBT rights individual standing at the front began shouting for an executive order on gay rights. (Pool did not hear exactly what.)
“One of the things I don’t do well is this,” replied FLOTUS to loud applause. She left the lectern and moved over to the protester, saying they could “listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
Crowd started shouting that they wanted FLOTUS to stay.
“You need to go!” said one woman near the protester.
The protester was then escorted out, shouting “…lesbian looking for federal equality before I die.” (First part of the quote was inaudible.)
As New York Times editorialist Andrew Rosenthal hilariously puts it, "Mrs. Obama did not handle it terribly well by threatening to take her marbles and go home." But, since Michelle was the most popular girl in the tent (did I actually hear her putting it to a voice vote?) the crowd voted for Michelle, and the activist was led out by a security detail. There is no word whether she was issued a ticket refund.... or a ticket.

I wouldn't care about this tawdry episode were it not for the over-the-top reaction from the progressive blogosphere. (see the Times reader comments to the Rosenthal post.) "You Go, Girl!" was the most common response, favoring Michelle Obama, as if she were the bullying victim next door instead of a wealthy seasoned politician. Then there are the protestations that she is not the reflection of her husband's policies, nor is she a paid member of his cabinet.... and most of all, that the heckler was rude. For god's sake! --  heckling is meant to rude. Heckling is what a desperate person does when all else fails -- be it patience, politeness, groveling, friendly calls to Congress, campaign contributions, voting for a politician who pretends to be for the little guy. Heckling is a healthy response to lies, platitudes and demagoguery. Heckling is a valuable tool. It gets you press you wouldn't ordinarily get. Would anybody be talking about the punted employment rights bill today were it not for the heckler? Would the corporate media establishment have written about Medea Benjamin if she hadn't heckled Obama at his frightening oral excuse for state-sponsored terror and murder?

 I tend to agree with Rosenthal, that Mrs. Obama could have handled the situation better. Since the gathering was exclusive, what would it have cost her to promise the woman a private meeting afterward? Instead, she went genteel-ballistic and held the distraught (and rude, rude, rude!) woman up to ridicule, even denigrating her cause -- "It’s not about you or you or your issue or your thing. This is about our children.”

It reminds me of the very different, but equally gauche, way that Laura Bush once handled a heckler. Not to mention the very dissimilar ways the faux-gressives treated the episode -- because I can't seem to remember any Democratic outcry over the rudeness of the bereaved Iraq war mother who heckled Mrs. Bush during a campaign speech in New Jersey in 2004. Sue Niederer showed up at that event wearing a t-shirt bearing the message: PRESIDENT BUSH: YOU KILLED MY SON.

 Molly Ivins described the event in her book Bill of Wrongs:
When Laura Bush started speaking about the war, Niederer stood up and shouted "Why aren't your children serving?" She was swarmed by young volunteers carrying placards, who had instructions to surround any protester, hold up their signs, and chant "Four more years! Four more years!"
The commotion caught the attention of the first lady's security detail.
Laura Bush might have seized the moment. Confronted by a grieving mother who had lost her son a few months earlier, she might have paused and asked Sue Niederer to meet with her in private after the event concluded. A mother -- "a mom" as George W says -- of twin daughters two years younger than Seth Dvorin was when his life ended in Iraq might empathize.
For a moment, Niederer thought that might happen. She had overestimated the compassion and agility of the first lady."Her jaw dropped and her face froze when I spoke" Niederer said.
The bereaved mother was then escorted out by the Secret Service, jailed and handcuffed to a wall until the campaign event was over, and Laura Bush was safely out of town. Charges were eventually dropped, because they couldn't think up a crime fast enough.

It reminds me of the time during the Obama campaign, when the prez was set to face off against  Mitt Romney for the infamous Binders Full of Women debate, and Green Party candidates Jill Stein and Cherie Honkala showed up. Those women never even got the chance to heckle (not that they necessarily would have, mind you) before the Secret Service whisked them away and handcuffed them to metal chairs....  until the Obamas and the Romneys were safely out of town.

I am actually surprised that the Washington establishment does not get heckled regularly. They deserve it. And it's a healthy means of expression for the abused and the marginalized. Tomatoes, rotten eggs and flying shoes are also in order.

Of course, there is that little matter of H.R, 347, passed last year, which facilitates the criminalization of demonstrations within the sight or hearing of any public figure receiving Secret Service protection.

There are free speech zones.... and then there is the Twilight Zone, where democracy sunsets, humanists are ridiculed, and crowds mindlessly chant "Four More Years! Four More Years!"



Pearl said...

Let's hope one of the Obama girls is a Lesbian. Interesting thought.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Gee, let's hope this heckling thing doesn't catch on. Imagine, a rude person at every function eager to interrupt the righteous as they remind us how good they are for the American people.

Could heckling be the new tactic for Occupy? If each heckler were to bring up just one betrayal, sell-out or U-turn this Administration is responsible for, the list of fresh heckling questions won't be exhausted by the time Obama leaves office.* YouTube or the Guardian – but not the Times – could set up a special page called The Heckle of the Day.


Anonymous said...

Was better when EARTHA KITT! confronted Lady Bird about the Vietnam War. Wasn't heckling, technically, but it was pretty shocking for its time.

You gonna heckle, make sure it's a big-ticket item. Of course, the definition of big ticket is subjective, but Medea Benjamin and EARTHA KITT! have a pretty good yardstick.

Anonymous said...

I just don't see where rudeness gets us. There is now zero chance Prez will consider this matter. If hecklers are given private meetings, where will it end? I cannot imagine wanting to meet with someone loony enough to heckle my speech. I feel the same way about ALL of them--no self-control. No excuse for it.