Have you ever had one of those days where things just fall into your lap? Suddenly, unexpectedly, you find out that you’ve got free tickets to the Braves’ game, or a gift certificate to the nearest mall, or an interview for your dream job. Sometimes there’s no explaining why stuff happens; you’ve just got to smile and enjoy the ride.So, when I found myself sitting just across from the president–yes, that would be George W. Bush, president of the United States and leader of the free world–all I could think was “Oh, wow” and “Is this real?”The president came to Alabama in the beginning of March as part of a nationwide tour to promote his new Social Security plan. Crisscrossing the country with the energy of a campaigning politician, Bush is pushing hard to inform and win over the American people to his concept of Social Security reform. He has appeared in a series of “town hall” meetings across the nation, which typically feature a panel of ordinary folks of various ages who get the chance to share their thoughts about the system as it is today, their hopes and fears for the future of Social Security, and their thoughts about the president’s plan. When Bush came to Montgomery, I, along with my grandfather and four others, was able to be a part of the panel and meet the president in person.You may or may not be a Bush fan, but whatever your political leanings, it’s a thrill to get in some face time with the president of your country. An ordinary student at Auburn University–I’m a senior majoring in journalism and working on a Spanish minor, with no political aspirations or activities–I was surprised and slightly nervous when my phone rang and the person on the other end said she was calling from the White House. I knew that a friend had given my name, along with several others, to someone who worked for the president, but I initially thought this meant I was on the short list for tickets to Bush’s appearance. I completely missed the point that I might have a chance to do more than glimpse him from far away. Things began to fall into place after that first phone call. The White House was really interested in talking to graduating seniors who would soon be entering the workforce, and they loved that my grandfather was an articulate senior who believed in the president’s plan. To say I was excited when I got the final call telling me what would happen would be an understatement–my professor narrowly missed witnessing the jig I danced in the hallway outside her office after I found out what I would be doing later that week.A few highlights included: getting to sit onstage at Bush’s Montgomery appearance, sharing our thoughts and concerns about Social Security with the president and the audience, having a private meeting with the president beforehand, great tickets for my family at the rally, and a photo opportunity for my family with the president after the meeting.In person, President Bush is shorter than I expected, and there is an energy of excitement and efficiency about him. While he looks different than he does on TV, it’s hard to get a handle on exactly how: is it athleticism, or maybe just the simple fact that he’s really here, life-size, and not just a glossy photo or talking head on the television screen? The president is famous for his friendliness and down-home air, and that came across when he met the six panelists backstage. This meeting was intended to calm our nerves before we got in front of thousands. It was 10 minutes of easy conversation, during which I had to keep reminding myself that the man at the table was actually George W. Bush and not just an actor playing him for a comedy skit.To me, the crazy thing about the whole day was just that it was really happening. While the president was talking, I was looking over his shoulder at his speech notes. When it was my turn to talk, the president introduced me, throwing in a little Spanish to lighten the mood. The thing that struck me most about Bush was his easy way with people. He knew everyone around him was nervous, and somehow he made us comfortable. His Texas accent and joking style probably helped, plus the fact that he looks you dead-on in the eyes and his handshake is firm. He’s not perfect, but something about the man made me trust him.I realize not everyone sees the president with the same admiration and respect as I do. As someone with a conservative outlook on life, it’s naturally easier for me to admire and agree with him and his views. But no matter what you think about politics–Republican or Democrat, left or right wing–for an ordinary girl like me, it’s not every day that I get to hang out with the president. So I did the only thing I knew: smiled big, pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, and enjoyed the ride.Beth Farnsworth is a senior at Auburn University majoring in journalism. Last summer, she worked as a public relations intern with the Alabama Farmers Federation where her father, David, is an area organization director.
Former Alfa Farmers Intern Talks With President