Vice President Cheney makes appearance at Allegheny College
by James Auwaerter
On a brisk autumn morning last Wednesday in Meadville, Pa., vendors hawked George W. Bush buttons while across the road, protesters held up homemade signs made out of spray-painted bedsheets. Dick Cheney had come to town.
While Cheney traveled to his first of three Pennsylvania appearances that day, this one held at Allegheny College, U.S. Representative John Peterson (R?Pa.) addressed the crowd.
?We have 20 days ? 20 days to get the job done,? Peterson said. He then went into the advantages of electing Bush over Kerry, specifically proposed funding of healthcare in rural areas and plans for nationwide broadband access for all citizens. After he finished, there was a brief intermission while Cheney continued on his way to Allegheny College. One of the roughly 700 people waiting for the main event to begin was Chuck Gilmore, a CMU mechanical engineering alumnus from 1968.
When asked what he expected from Cheney, Gilmore said, ?I?m expecting him to continue to be straight with us as he has been all along.?
Ushers confirmed that the questions were going to be taken directly from the audience. When Vice President Cheney showed up ? his delay due to a motorcyclist in his convoy hitting a deer ? his wife, Lynne Cheney, introduced him to the crowd.
It took some time for the crowd to finish its standing ovation, and someone shouted, ?Four more years!? prompting continued applause. In his opening statement, Cheney spoke of the times he had enjoyed fly-fishing in western Pennsylvanian streams, and of the people ? Peterson and fellow Representative Phil English, Senators Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter ? who currently represent western Pennsylvania in Congress. He also addressed the need for a strong defense in the war on terror.
Cheney also referred to Senator John Kerry?s recent interview in the New York Times Magazine, in which Kerry referred to getting concern about terrorists back to where ?they?re a nuisance.? ?It doesn?t strike me that terrorism can ever be a nuisance,? Cheney said. He then asked when such a time would be ? before 9/11, or before the attack on the USS Cole, or even back before the attacks on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.
Most of the questions posed to him were not about the war on terror, but domestic issues like increased prison funding, the No Child Left Behind Act?s (NCLB) effects on special needs children, and Medicare funding.
The first question brought no concrete answer ? Cheney said he was not aware of any planned increase, though he stated that the federal government should take more responsibility in paying for the incarceration of illegal aliens who commit crimes. The second question was answered by Lynne Cheney, rather than the Vice President, who said that President Bush was concerned about special needs children and that NCLB has already driven improvement in schools that had been failing. She also said that Bush was looking to expand the program to cover secondary schools in his second term. Vice President Cheney answered the third question by noting the President?s efforts to aid seniors today with a prescription drug benefit, and aid seniors in the future by changing Medicare over to private investment accounts, which would have a higher rate of return.
Foreign policy interests were well represented by the crowd as they asked questions about Iran, Tora Bora, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Cheney said that the government was already working with the International Atomic Energy Agency to prevent Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction, and would be seeking UN sanctions should Iran continue.
On Kerry?s allegations that Iraq distracted the U.S. from capturing Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora, Cheney said that statement was untrue, that the U.S. has the capacity to pursue both fronts on the war on terror, and that Senators Kerry and Edwards did not think that Iraq could be a distraction when they voted for the use of force there. Finally, Afghanistan and Iraq were listed as key components on preventing terrorist networks from expanding.
?[The] best antidote to terror is freedom,? Cheney said. He ended with the point that ?there are no touchdown passes in this business.... We know it?s hard,? but that the U.S. could prevail.
As the event finished, the protesters outside behind the police line, by then grown to around 50, continued to chant ?Bush and Cheney got to go ? hey hey, ho ho.? When asked why they protested the Vice President?s visit, two women replied, ?We support John Kerry.?