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Bush Faces Rare Audience Challenge in N.C.
Most of those who stood had only polite inquiries or statements of support. One man told Bush he prayed for him. A woman asked to have her picture taken with him and predicted "you will be vindicated." Asked by another man what he would do differently, Bush mentioned the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. "I wish that could be done over," he said. "It was a disgraceful experience."
Then came Taylor, 61, a commercial real estate broker, who got Bush's attention from the balcony.
"You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that," Taylor told him. "But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food."
Bush interrupted with a smile. "I'm not your favorite guy," he joked, provoking laughter.
"What I want to say to you," Taylor continued, "is that I, in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by, my leadership in Washington."
Many in the audience booed.
"Let him speak," Bush said.
"I feel like, despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration," Taylor added.
Bush took it in stride but offered no regrets. In response, he dealt only with the National Security Agency program to eavesdrop without court approval on telephone calls and e-mails between people inside the United States and people overseas when one person is suspected of terrorist ties.
"I'm not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program, and I'll tell you why," Bush said, launching into his explanation of how he approved the program to avoid another Sept. 11. "If we're at war," he said, "we ought to be using tools necessary within the Constitution on a very limited basis, a program that's reviewed constantly, to protect us."
What made the exchange intriguing was its rarity. Bush is almost never confronted with strong, polite criticism. Hecklers sometimes make it into a speech, but when they stand up to shout, security agents remove them. Three Bush critics sued after they were ejected from an event in Denver.
In an interview afterward, Taylor said he had become an activist in recent years out of discontent with Bush and was pleasantly surprised he was allowed to challenge the president. "I didn't think I'd be let in the room," he said.
Bush hardly won him over, though. "I didn't care about his response," Taylor said. "I wanted to say what I wanted to say and I wanted him to know that despite being in a room with a thousand people who love him . . . there are plenty of people out there who don't agree with him in any way, shape or form."