Luncheon breaks out at Cheney protest in Portland

By the time this goes to press, Dick Cheney will have come andgone from a Portland fundraising visit for some localcandidates.

A number of local bigwigs will have paid $1000 a plate to seehim speak in support of Oregon Republican congressional candidatesGoli Ameri and Jim Zupancic. No, I haven’t heard of them either.But in considering how close the races tend to be in Oregon,apparently the White House thought it was necessary to throw alittle vice presidential support this way.

Cheney may make a lot of people mad, but his presence is likecatnip to the Republican faithful – the kind of people who actuallybenefit from top-shelf tax cuts and the kind of people who can drop$1000 on lunch if it benefits…er…a good cause.

This being Portland, there will no doubt be some highly vocalprotesters adding their input to the proceedings from a safedistance away, behind a sturdy cyclone fence. The city that thefirst President Bush once called “Little Beirut” has a habit ofgiving this kind of welcome to visiting right-wing politicos. Afterlast year’s Cheney visit, they will even have a little bit of helpfrom their old friends in the Portland Police Bureau.

When Cheney visited last year, at the same Embassy Suites hotelby the PDX airport that he will be using again for this trip, theloyal opposition claimed their free-speech rights were violatedwhen they were forced into a holding area far from view of the moregenteel meeting that was taking place inside the hotel. Thesituation became a bit tense when some of the protesters almostsucceeded in toppling the fence. They took issue with being crammedinto such a distant “free speech zone” from where the real actionwas. As a lot of people have mentioned, the entire country istheoretically supposed to be a free speech zone, but that has beendramatically scaled back as of late.

This year the fence will be back. But it will be considerablylower and closer to the hotel.

“The police bureau will make every effort to provide a safeenvironment for these visits and will continue to try to minimizethe impact of the appropriate security measures on communitymembers. You don’t want to protest in a vacuum, you want to be seenand heard, so having a lower fence allows people to be seen andthat’s something we’re trying to respond to,” Portland policeofficer Greg Pashley said in a news conference that was televisedSunday on KGW (8). The police department seems to finally be wisingup to the fact that the public’s perception of them isn’t exactlycharacterized by blind admiration and they have to at least givethe appearance of placating their constituency.

So now they’re on a tightrope, trying to balance keeping Cheneyhappy while avoiding that Little Beirut image with keeping theprotesters happy, or at least not angry enough to mount afull-scale charge on the free-speech fence. It’s a measure of justhow intimidating the Bush administration is, that the cops will getso aggro about crowd control.

After a few rough May Days over the last few years, they’ve hadto back off considerably from their previous head-busting ways.Protesters pretty much had the run of downtown when operationsstarted in Iraq last year. But bring a Bush or a Cheney to town andit’s back to lockdown mode.

But it seems the protesters and the police have reached a defacto compromise. They won’t try to rush the fence and in returnthe cops will allow the fence to be a bit closer.

As the Democratic convention opens on the other side of thecountry, the police department is trying to avoid making Portlandlook like a previous Democratic convention, the messy one from1968, and create a less contentious atmosphere. Personally, I thinkit’s the wrong tactic for Cheney to mandate or even accept thispolicy of keeping protesters at bay. If he really wants to showthat he’s got the courage of his convictions, I’d like to hear himecho Bush’s infamous “bring ’em on” catchphrase and engage them ontheir own turf. It would, at least, make for entertainingtelevision: a wild-eyed Cheney rabidly confronting a bunch ofneo-lefties on the front steps of the Embassy Suites, waving hisown hand-lettered Four More Years! sign, occasionally whackingpeople over the head with it, raving beatifically about “damn dirtyhippies” and “un-American pinko bastards” until his pacemakerfinally gives out. Now that would cause some true Shock and Awe. Ifyou think George W. is too intimidated to dump him from the ticketnow, wait until word gets back about that kind of performance.