It’s Easier Than You Think to Get a Ticket to an Obama Town Hall Meeting

August 14, 2009 - 3:34 PM
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Penny Starr

It’s usually a sweet summer read or a catchy pop song that frames the season, but this year it is politicians staging town hall meetings that has captured the American imagination.
 
Just ask Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) or Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) about sharing the room with their constituents and they’ll tell you people are steaming – and it has nothing to do with the weather.
 
The left accuses these anti-Obamacare folks of being operatives for the Republican National Committee or even for Rush Limbaugh, despite the fact that their own iconic MoveOn.org is passing out prepared statements and ready-made signs for supporters of government-run health care who need guidance to weigh in at one of these meetings.
 
And now that President Obama is braving the town hall circuit, the media have been scrutinizing the logistics of these gatherings, from who gets a ticket and why, to how someone gets picked to ask a question – and if their question was pre-screened.
 
When the audience was polite to Obama earlier this week at his first town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., the media speculation came fast. Not only were they suspiciously nice to Obama, but the toughest question came from an 11-year-old who asked why people are being mean about his health care plan (Okay, as the daughter of a generous donor to the Obama presidential campaign, she probably already knows politics is a nasty business.)
 
All this spite and speculation inspired me to pick up the phone on Thursday (increasingly a rarity in the New Media world) and called the White House. How, I asked the press office, did one go about getting a ticket to an Obama town hall meeting? Specifically, how to get a ticket for Obama’s town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday?
 
The staffer, who spoke on background (a journalism euphemism to describe people who know that facts but don’t want to be held accountable for the credibility of that knowledge), said it was simple: Go to Whitehouse.gov and fill in the blanks – name, phone number and zip code. Address is optional. After the deadline passed on Thursday evening, individuals would be randomly selected to receive two coveted tickets.
 
She also told me that the questions would not be screened, although you can be certain that every ticketholder and their guest would be put through the tight security check required at presidential events.
 
So I followed directions and filled in the blanks, thinking that if it really was that simple, why not give it a try?
 
Shortly after 8 p.m. on Thursday evening, my cell phone rang. When “Unavailable ID” showed up on the screen, I hesitated. Bad news or a telemarketing pitch best be avoided by not answering.
 
As usual, curiosity prevailed and I flipped open my phone. The woman informed me that I was randomly selected to receive two tickets to Obama’s town hall meeting in Colorado.
 
She told me I had to pick up the tickets within a three-hour window on Friday at a location she asked me not to reveal.
 
She asked me if I lived in Colorado and I told her I would be visiting – a question I assumed was inspired by my Virginia zip code.
 
She didn’t ask me what I did for a living, if I had any party affiliation, or if I approved or disapproved of the two disastrous health care reform bills that the House and Senate have released.
 
Unfortunately, logistics prevented me from winging across the fruited plains to witness a town hall meeting for myself. It would have been one of those rare opportunities to witness democracy in action.
 
Because no matter what you think of our Commander and Chief and his liberal minions, democracy is a messy and marvelous process that requires the American people to remind the bureaucrats on Capitol Hill, including Obama, who will decide the future of our country.