I return from Romney's Sarasota presidential campaign stop with my spirit temporarily flagging. One Romney protester held a sign that read "Nobody Likes Mitt", but I think she is wrong. By my estimates, four or five thousand people showed up to display their enthusiasm for the candidate, standing for several hours in the sweltering midday sun. A few picked fights - physically pushing and shoving - and a majority of them shamelessly slung insults at protesters. The police did their job well, keeping the two opposing groups separated and the road clear for traffic. Because of Electoral College math, Romney must win Florida to have a shot at the presidency. This means campaigning here during the summer heat. Later in the afternoon, the heat was severe enough that I saw two folks escorted away for treatment by medics standing by.
Waiting for the gates to open, thousands of Romney supporters settled on their favorite line of protester-directed hubris - "Get a Job!" Frankly, this was just bizarre beyond comprehension. These folks, who were standing in line and obviously NOT working, are yelling at a hundred people across the street. They are yelling at people they have never met, people they know nothing about. And they are telling them to get a job, at a moment when they, themselves, are obviously not working. Is this some sort of mass projection bias? Perhaps it's a media-induced stereotyping hysteria? It is tempting to blame it all on the media. It certainly made me feel worse about the human race. There's a young boy, perhaps six years old, chanting "Get a Job" over and over, even after the adults have abandoned the activity. Why isn't this child in school at 1:30 in the afternoon? Perhaps he is being home-schooled. Today's lesson is to make assumptions about people he has never met and demand that they do something that he, himself, is not prepared to do. How depressing. I actually know something of the protesters. One is a server at a local restaurant. Another is a substitute teacher. Another is an artist. Several are full-time college students, who fit this protest in around their class schedules. Yes, some are retired, but why demand that a retiree go get a job?
Despite my agitation and incredulity, I decide to go inside the grounds to get a more in-depth look. For this, I must stand in line for about an hour as the thousands of people before me go through security. I am surrounded by folks who watch Fox News. They seem nice enough, until they start yelling at the protesters to "Take a Bath." They call them "Scum of the Nation" and "Losers". They assure themselves that every last protester has been paid to come out and protest. Where do they get this nonsense? Oh yeah, Fox News. And every tenth sentence, I hear someone complaining about socialism. I am surrounded by retirees on Medicare, who by definition are benefitting from our country's socialized payment for medical services for the elderly. When I finally arrive at the rally area, there is an enormous sign saying "Protect and Strengthen Medicare." So, evidently some forms of socialism are okay. I, myself, am against socializing corporate losses when we privatize corporate gains. That's how many describe the 2009 bank bailouts. Especially the protesters across the street. I'm thinking this is something we could all agree on. But nobody here is looking for agreement. They want to paint the world in black and white. And it's contagious. We are all left ripe for misunderstanding. And hurt. And my spirit is flagging.
Prior to joining this public rally at the Ringling Museum, a few folks had paid $2500 and more to have lunch with Romney at the Ritz Carlton. A plane flies overhead dragging a banner that reads, "Romney: See any 47% victims at the Ritz?" A flyover form of protest. It refers to a recently released video taken at a Boca Raton fundraiser where, in the words of Stephen Colbert, Romney calls 47% of all Americans mindless moochers. This certainly brought out the ire of Virginia Hoffman, who took it as a call to action against today's rally.
Perhaps there are a few thoughtful members of Romney's audience with whom I can dialog. I find a woman who came down from Clearwater. She was contemplating leaving early, in part, because Romney was already half an hour late and, in part, due to the unrelenting sweatiness of the afternoon. Instead, she struck up a conversation about all the hate coming out of the Middle East. How the Muslims were out to destroy our freedom of speech. She was referring to recent actions of Libyan protesters, who were so angered over a film that ridiculed Muhammad that they burned down the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed the U.S. Ambassador. To be honest, I found the motivation for this story hard to believe from day one, but I had to agree that there is hate coming out of the Middle East. After all, the United States has set up tyrannical dictatorships in the area. And our planes have dropped bombs for years on countries in the region. There's a lot to hate. I made no mention of this, but we continued to talk. We talked about how the media is drawn to portray the point of view of extremists. That's all we hear about them and, most probably, that's all they hear about us. And she spoke of how fearful this has made her. As the discussion wound down, she told me how happy she was that Glenn Beck was back on the air without the constraints of Fox News. Even with the limited exposure I have had to Glenn Beck, I never got the impression that Fox News constrained him much; he seemed to glory in distorting the news. Later that evening, when I opened Facebook, there was a Glenn Beck clip in my newsfeed. So, I clicked on it. Coincidentally, he was ranting about how unlikely it was that an amateur youtube video, which had attracted a relatively small viewership could have generated such a successful and well-planned response in Libya, months after its release. I had to agree.
Mitt Romney finally graced us with his presence. Within five minutes, I could just barely listen to the manipulative statements and sloganeering bombarding us. He spent his speaking time talking about all the things he would NOT do, if elected President. I will sum it up in a one sentence exaggeration. Whatever President Obama has done, Mitt Romney was not going to do that. That seemed to fire up the crowd. I left early.
I emerged to a new group of protesters. They were New College students, some of whom had infiltrated the event. After Romney started speaking, they started chanting "People over Profits" and unfurled a Palestinian flag. How had I missed this? They were quickly shooed out by security. And they were thoroughly energized by their actions. A Romney supporter walking out of the event, came toward the group and said that he was willing to talk to them, but only if they believed in God. Negative and inaccurate stereotypes of atheists must be alive and well. I was sinking into despondency. Time to go home.