Appears with permission of Ben Price
Overview Of Meeting With Representative Of State Of Pennsylvania
from my perspective: Ben Price
Alanna Hartzok, Rob Wheeler, Ben Price
Representative Bill Shuster doesn't schedule meetings at his offices in the 9th District during Congressional recess, nor does he keep regular hours at the offices in his district. As luck would have it, a call to his Chambersburg office on Aug. 18th yielded the info that he would be in his Chambersburg office the following day from 9:30 am to 11:00 am to meet with constituents on a first come, first served basis. A full hour and a half to serve the commnity he represents.
With little time to prepare, we decided to make the attempt to meet the Congressman. In whatever brief meeting we were granted we would push for an independent investigation of the facts that precipitated the unprovoked invasion of Iraq.
Other citizens arrived early and signed in for a place in line. Our group was fourth, and the wait was not too long. Boiled down to its essence, here is my assessment of our meeting with Rep. Shuster:
- The Congressman declared he already knew our position in opposition to the war in Iraq. Some of this information came from reading published material by other opponents and also by members of our delegation, particularly Alanna's writings.
- After an initial statement by me about our concern that the Congress and the American people had received inaccurate and misleading information prior to the granting of war powers to the executive branch by the legislature, and before I had fully developed the reason for our visit, Mr. Shuster interjected his argument in favor of the invasion and for more patience as evidence of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" would surely soon be found. He objected that the "left's" analysis of the facts would be proven wrong.
- Clearly not a good listener, but a "representative" intent on advancing an already formulated agenda during our very brief meeting, Mr. Shuster denied us the full opportunity to state our case. He raised constant objections and attempted to focus on details that "ran out the clock," as we attepted to make our statement and arrange another, more inclusive meeting.
- We requested a separate, more in-depth meeting, and Alanna invited the Congressman to participate in a community forum. He reacted cooly to both proposals, saying of the forum idea "I'd have to think long and hard about that." As for more extended meetings, he insisted he knew our positions and saw little need to waste time hashing over the details. Write letters, he suggested. We agreed afterward that we will, on specific targeted topics. As often as possible. I fully expect to receive staff-composed boiler plate responses.
- He took the opportunity to assert a "liberal" media bias. Out of the blue, but he smiled sarcasticly with his eyes as he said it.
- Our attempts to make points or raise concerns were curtailed with the same red herring arguments floated by the Bush administration to deflect difficult questions about the invasion and the use or misuse of information leading up to it. It seemed clear to me Mr. Shuster had been schooled on party line talking points.
- The burden of factual evidence to justify the invasion that I insisted on was rejected by Mr. Shuster as impossible to fulfill prior to the war. Then he reduced the level of knowledge of imminent danger from Iraq that would be acceptable to justify the invasion down to the level of an intelligence-generated "best guess" that Iraq might pose a threat. He alluded to September 11th 2001 and the necessity of avoiding a repeat. He began to assert the existence of "blueprints" and plans for weapons systems in Iraq. I admit to having interrupted and insisting that only intact systems posing an imminent threat would suffice. He moved on to "mobile labs" he assert has been proven to exist.
- Mr. Shuster seemed to suggest that Iraq, as a "hostile" nation should not warrant the level of proof of hostile intent prior to a preemptive invasion. The circularity of his reasoning did not seem to discomfort him in the least, but he left no opportunity to question it.
- Alanna made an eloquent statement about the nature of our "democracy" and how it serves wealthy and corporate interests over the needs of the citizens. This was rebuffed by the Congressman's challenge: "so you don't think we live in the best democracy ever?" The clear room for improvement in the social lives of our citizens was not one of the challenges on Mr. Shuster's intellectual agenda.
- One encouraging statement came after Rob's presentation of a list of questions that must be answered by an independent investigation: the Congressman agreed that the facts should be known. But he was clearly unmoved by our appeal for an independent investigation to uncover them.
- On two ocassions Mr. Shuster made the curious assertion that our government is the greatest on earth, as demonstrated by the fact that we (his visitors) would not be arrested or killed for speaking to him in opposition to official policy. The first instance seemed puzzling. The second seemed alarming, and I asserted that if we came to that, another revolution would be called for. A regrettable comment to leave on the table as we parted, I admit.
- I left the 15 minute exchange wishing Mr. Shuster's minimal standards for democratic greatness were a bit higher.