Kalah Allen
Vice President Dick Cheney has rarely been seen in public over the past three years--and his fundraising appearance in Portland last Tuesday was no exception. Although about 100 protesters tromped through a soggy field adjacent to the Embassy Suites near the airport, they were not allowed to stand any closer than a football field's length away. As planes roared overhead, a chainlink fence crowned with barbed wire held the protesters back from the salmon-hued hotel. Police on ATVs bounded around the area, making certain no one inched any closer to the Republican's $1000-a-plate fundraiser.

Many protesters chose not to even show up, instead hosting a small demonstration in Pioneer Square, where they beheaded a papier-mâché effigy of VP Cheney. But those who did appear were adamant they had succeeded.

"Portland has forced the neo-conservatives to hold their rallies at the airport--because they can't get into town," said Dan Kaufman, a Southeast Portland resident. "They have to be secretive about their meetings."

Two summers ago, a massive downtown protest shut down rush-hour traffic and frustrated patrons who were trying to attend a fundraiser for US Senator Gordon Smith hosted by President Bush. This past summer, the GOP chose to host a fundraiser in the northern reaches of town, on the campus of the conservative University of Portland. At that event, hundreds of demonstrators thronged to North Portland to shake signs and yell at President Bush. But their presence did little to slow Bush, as patrons were shuttled to the luncheon in buses, and the President's caravan sped through residential streets at 50 mph to reach the site.

On Tuesday, organizers insisted their protest against Cheney had complicated the planning for the fundraiser. (If the threat of demonstrations frustrated the Republican fundraising efforts, it was not apparent in the ultimate turnout for the dinner event, which raised an estimated $400,000.)

But perhaps more than logistical inconvenience, the increasingly remote and secretive fundraisers in Portland are an indication of a new model of politics in the US--one that's deeply divided, in which incumbents have a decreasing interest in wooing the opposition.

The current divide in national politics is greater for Bush than for any president in US history. According to data from the Pew Research Center and Gallup Organization, Bush has secured a 90 percent approval rating from the Republican Party, far exceeding party support for any other recent president. (With an 85 percent party approval rating, Reagan is the only other president who scored close to Bush.)

At the same time, however, his disapproval rating, gleaned from opposing political parties, stands at 67 percent--a number higher than President Richard Nixon and just shy of the all-time high of Bill Clinton (70 percent).

"There hasn't been a public this polarized in years," said the Sierra Club's Paul Shively, who helped organize the Cheney protest. But, says Shively, the silver lining of that division is that it helps inspire political action, as constituents have something to rally against.

Over the past few years, the Bush administration has been quietly dismantling decades of environmental protections. The Clear Skies Initiative pushed by Bush, for example, has rolled back Clear Air Act protections and allows for increased carbon monoxide emissions.

To rally Portland residents against the Bush Administration, the Sierra Club is beginning a series of door-knocking and community meetings. For more information, contact amanda@greencorps.org.