I arrived at 6 p.m., signed in, was assigned to a team, received a volunteer tag, t-shirt (required wearing) and rally pin. We cleared security which was actually less than some airline security checks I've been through recently. At 6:30 p.m. we were briefed by a gentleman named Tom who is with the Cheney advance team in charge of the event.
Each team was assigned to a specific job and our group was designated as "Lei Greeters" which meant that we had the happy task of draping lei around the necks of the rally-goers. There were 10,000 purple orchid lei, 5,000 bento boxes (Hawaiian-style lunch boxes which consisted of a slice of fried SPAM and a breaded chicken cutlet on a bed of rice) and signs galore. The venue was decorated in a red, white & blue theme but with touches unique to Hawaii such as large neon coconut trees. There were two huge screens to ensure all who came could see all the action.
While we waited for the doors to open at 7:15 p.m. we could hear competing noise from outside the convention center. Approximately 100 protestors, most of whom were dressed in various costumes, were using bullhorns to blast obscenities about Bush and Cheney towards the people in line. The rally-goers would respond with loud chants of "Four more years." Not surprisingly these outbursts got louder whenever a camera crew happened along.
The doors finally opened and we were on. Greet with "Aloha, thank you for coming," drape the lei, kiss the cheek and say "There is bento in the back if you're hungry and don't forget to vote on Tuesday", repeat. It was really fun. There were all sorts of people, which is expected here in Hawaii with our diverse culture, but it was still wonderful to see what was really a microcosm of our population. We had everything from bleached surfer dudes to Tongan gentlemen wearing the traditional lava lava. My estimate is that we had 7,500+ people - way better than the Democrats did on Friday with a mere 1200. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports that Cheney's team estimated about 9,000 and the the Honolulu Advertiser (who has endorsed Kerry and trashed Bush at every opportunity) estimated 5,000 - 7,000.
Some standouts for me:
1) The large group of Vietnamese-Americans wearing "Vietnamese Americans for Bush" t-shirts. I spent many weeks in Vietnam in recent years and a family I count among my closest friends fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. They were rescued from a sinking boat by a U.S. Navy ship, sent to a refugee camp in Guam before going to Camp Pendleton and eventually ending up in Spokane. All of the children attended college and have gone on to become great productive citizens. The relatives who didn't get out ended up in "Re-education Camps," one for over 13 years, and though life is somewhat improved for them now there is truly no comparison. Knowing what happens to people who are abandoned by the U.S. after a promise of freedom, and knowing that John Kerry played a role, however small in the abandonment, is probably the single biggest reason I don't trust him to not do the same thing in Iraq.
2) The stylish family of four wearing sleek black t-shirts with a small white "W" emblazoned on the left breast.
3) Two very pretty girls dressed up in jeans, white shirts, boots and straw cowboy hats with large black felt "W"s glued to the front.
4) The older Filipina lady who just had to tell us that she had lectured her fellow church-goers at mass just that morning about the importance of voting your conscience and not blindly voting Democrat.
5) Another very pretty girl whom I could only conclude was a Secret Service groupie. She came in and as I gave her a lei she held up her Bush Cheney sign and asked where she could get autographs from Secret Service guys. I pointed them out to her but told her I didn't know if she'd have any luck. I saw her after the event and she had managed to get several!
6) Two Washington female staffers. When they came in they said they couldn't wear the lei but wanted to take them with them. I handed it to one of them and when she touched it, she shrieked "It's real!" We instructed her on how to store it (this particular lei is very sturdy and will last at least a couple of days) and then snickered amongst ourselves at the thought that we would hand out fake lei - as if!
The doors were supposed to remain open until 10:15 p.m. but the VP was running early so they closed the security checkpoint around 10 p.m. and herded all of us who had cleared security into the front area and blocked it off from the other part of the hall. They then let the people who were still in line (approximately 800) into the rear of the hall behind a low barricade which was patrolled by Secret Service and HPD (Honolulu Police Department). A few hecklers managed to get in during this period but they were quite trivial.
The crowd was growing restless but it wasn't long before a young Hawaiian man stepped out and blew a conch shell, then came two amazing fire dancers (I ask, how many places have fire dancers at political rallies???) and the crowd was warmed up. We all sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and the Hawaii State Song, Hawaii Pono`i, acapella. We then recited the Pledge of Allegiance with great fervor. Then came the boxing match music and the man said "Let's get ready to rumble. The main event..." and Governor Linda Lingle was introduced.
Governor Lingle spoke just a minute or two before introducing Lynne Cheney and the Vice President. Mrs. Cheney spoke for a few minutes. I'm sure the speech she gives about meeting the VP when he was 14 and chronicling the various jobs he held from ditch digger to union card carrying lineman is the same she gives at all the stops but it came across as very sincere. She introduced the VP and the crowd went wild chanting "Cheney, Cheney, Cheney..."
The VP spoke for about 20 minutes but he started off by sending his best wishes to Sen. Dan Inouye's wife, Maggie. Mrs. Inouye was just diagnosed with cancer and will undergo surgery this week. The crowd responded with lots of aloha and best wishes for her. The woman next to me turned and said "He is such a great gentleman." I asked about the Leahy swearing incident and she just sniffed and said "Sometimes a gentleman just has to put an goat in it's place." Quite right.
He covered primarily terrorism, the global war on terror and invoked the attack at Pearl Harbor. He talked about the free elections in Afghanistan (huge applause) and the upcoming elections in Iraq. He thanked the military and all who have sacrificed loved ones which brought resounding cheers. He also talked about keeping taxes low (huge applause as we are a heavily taxed state), medical malpractice and the booming economy here. We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country and people are very optimistic about the future - might be why Bush is doing well here. After delivering his standard line which refers to Kerry's positions on the war, "As we like to say in Wyoming, you can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but at the end of the day, it'll still be a pig!", he said "That's my favorite line. Would you like to hear it again?" The crowd went crazy as he repeated it.
Cheney looked great. Didn't appear to be tired at all and projected a strong and confident image. I would say that this event was extremely well produced and one wouldn't have known that it was only a few days in the planning. Everything went smoothly. I'm glad I went.
November 1, 2004
My cool Hawaii contact, "Yoshio," has this report on Cheney's visit (I've boldfaced details that especially struck me):