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Presidential visit conjures emotion

Katie Perry | Friday, February 24, 2006

When Air Force One landed in South Bend Thursday, Notre Dame students and Michiana community members greeted President George W. Bush as people generally do – with either open arms or cold shoulders.

Bush spoke at Bethel College as part of a fundraising luncheon for U.S. Rep. Chris Chocola, R-2nd District. The exclusive event – open only to those who purchased tickets at $500 each – included a speech by the president and a private reception. Bush also posed for snapshots with supporters, a pricey photo opportunity that cost $4,000 per person or $6,000 per couple.

White House officials arrived nearly a week early in order to prepare the logistics for Bush’s visit, including which route the president’s motorcade would take and where protesters – like members of Notre Dame’s Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) -would be permitted to congregate.

Armed with signs and fliers, approximately 10 PSA members lined up with members of the Michiana Peace Coalition, local unions and other individual protesters outside of Bethel to protest Bush’s arrival on the campus. PSA president Joe Murphy said “400 to 500” total people gathered.

PSA members were namely protesting the War in Iraq and the immigration policies of the current administration, Murphy said.

“It seemed like there was a lot of support for protesters, people driving by and honking horns in the middle of the workday. There was a lot of [positive] feeling,” he said.

The protest was marked by heated debate between supporters and opponents of Bush administration policies.

“There were lots of signs and people were chanting,” Murphy said. “There were a couple groups – maybe 10 people – supporting Bush. There was some intense debate [between the groups].”

An e-mail this week to PSA members said despite the money poured into the event, the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka were not compensated for the cost to local taxpayers of increased security, road closings and other provisions made for the presidential visit.

“There were tons of police everywhere blocking off the street and surrounding area,” Murphy said.

Notre Dame College Republicans co-president Jonathan Klingler said instead of being a financial burden, the event benefited the area economically.

“The event … [brought in] hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community – not only to Mishawaka and South Bend – but to Roseland and Niles as well, through hotel bookings and entertainment for the hundreds of extra people that [were] in the community for the event,” he said.

The presidential visit was a “tremendous honor,” Klinger said – an event that “will be remembered for years come.” The inconveniences of a “few blocked roads” and a day’s worth of overtime for local area police officers were worth a visit by a two-term president, he said.

Klingler said he did not believe the PSA objected out of concern for the citizens of Michiana, but rather “out of the desire to take a cheap shot at a U.S. president with whom the organization happens to disagree.”

“Even if the PSA objected to the visit on purely economic grounds, for consistency’s sake they should argue against any community which hopes to host the Olympic Games or an international peace conference because of the cost to the taxpayer,” he said.

Bethel is an evangelical Christian college located in Mishawaka with 1,971 students. The appearance marks the president’s seventh visit to Michiana in seven years.