I walked into the Lebanon New Hampshire Senior Center five minutes late. I knew, however, that I was at the right place owing to three giant red letters and the one giant red exclamation point mounted on rods and stuck in the ground. Jeb! The first irony, there are several, is that I hadn't planned on being at Jeb Bush's town hall meeting in the first place. A colleague of mine at Rivendell Academy, a 7-12 public interstate school on the New Hampshire / Vermont border, informed me earlier that afternoon of Bush's planned campaign stop. As the school day came to a close, I went on Mr. Bush's website to see how to attend the event. It was simple. I put in a little biographical information and then was allowed to print out a ticket. I was in. I then began to think about what question I would ask him if I had the opportunity. The school clock read 2:45, five minutes be for the dismissal bell. It was at that moment that I recognized an opportunity for the students in my Media & Self class. I would ask one of them what question they would like me to ask the Republican candidate. I raced down to hallway and found senior Shay Lapine. "I would like to know," she said, "what PR firm he has hired and how that influences him on the campaign?"
When I entered the venue I was immediately struck by the wall of media, a jungle of cameras and reporters mounted behind a square of seated voters, some who were holding white and red Jeb! signs. The candidate himself was standing in the center of the square. He had just started his stump speech. As the approximate 160 chairs were taken (I counted), twenty of us were left standing. While I listened to the stump, "Isis is a threat; Putin is a threat; Obamacare is a threat," etc., I found myself paying attention to a well-dressed middle-aged man standing next to me. I quickly deduced that he was part of the campaign team as younger well-dressed men kept coming up to him to whisper something into his ear. To be honest, at least during Jeb's stump, I was more interested in these hushed words than the candidate's miked rhetoric. Had I had the "audacity," to borrow an Obamaism, I would have moved closer, not only to hear what was spoken, but to read the texts that the older man was continuously sending and reading. Some texts, I noticed, would make him smile, while others would make him frown. Whoever this guy was, it was obvious he was working the campaign in real time.
The fact that I was standing on the fringe of the crowd and adjacent to the media wall - no way they could have all swung there cameras in my direction without hitting each other in the head - I didn't hold out much hope of having the opportunity to pursue Shay's inquiry. I politely raised my hand between answers anyway. And then the unexpected. Jeb turned in my direction just as someone yelled out, "Last question." My hand was up and the presidential hopeful picked me. A young man rushed over and stuck a mike under my nose, and just as I have seen, time and time again, others comically do the same, I unconsciously tried to grab the mike. The brief tug-o-war abated when the younger man whispered into my ear, "I'll hold on to it." I didn't see it, but I imagine my fellow receiver of whispers was rolling his eyes. Regaining my composure, I spoke:
Governor, I happened to have the opportunity to come here tonight at the last minute. I teach at Rivendell Academy, a public high school just twenty miles down the road. Just before school ended today, I found one of my students and asked what question she would like to ask you. Her name is Shay Lapine and this is her question. In modern campaigns, candidates are often packaged as commodities and sold to the public. As you know, in 2008 Obama had David Axelrod's PR firm crafting his image. What PR firm have you hired and how does it conflict with the man you want to be when campaigning?
Jeb's first response was, "Good question." He then went on to speak about PR firms in general, and in the past tense. He spoke of how sometimes it was troubling when they advised him to take of his glasses, etc. He said that he has no "David Axelrod." He said to tell Shay that "I have my mother Barbara Bush who would whack me upside the head if I tried to be something I'm not." He ended by saying, "I have two things that I always carry with me. In my pocket I have my rosary to remind me of my faith. On my wrist I have this black band to remind me of a soldier lost in war. And now I have the name Shay to remind me to be [something to the effect] true to myself."
I realized that Shay and I had provided Jeb with the opportunity to say to the American voter, "Unlike the other guys (Hillary and Carly included), I'm the genuine article, the real deal." It was masterful spin. There was only one problem, but I wasn't too worried as the room was packed with members of the fourth estate, intrepid guardians of democracy, who surely noticed it. Mr. Bush had not answered the question. He never named one of the many PR firms that work on his behalf.
As audience members filed out of the room several voiced to me approval of Shay's question, including Mr. Bush's receiver of whispers and sender of texts.
Three and a half hours after the event, an area news station posted a video clip in which Bush alluded to the Lapine inquiry:
Reporter: I have found on the campaign trail that New Hampshire voters are attracted to a candidate not necessarily because of policies, but because they want a candidate who is authentic, who is genuine and who can be trusted. What are you doing to earn the trust of the New Hampshire voter?
Bush: Zeesh, I just spilled my guts here. You weren't here when I did all that?
A few hours after that, the first print story was posted on the internet by a local reporter. It would appear in the local paper later that day. The only reference to Shay's question was in a caption under the story's photo which read, "Florida Governor Jeb Bush responds to a question asked by a Rivendell Academy Student regarding Bush's advertised image during his town hall meeting at the Lebanon Senior Center in Lebanon, N.H., on October 13, 2015."
At fourteen hours after the event, the first, and possibly only, national story regarding Shay's question was published by CNN's Ashley Killough:
Jeb Bush on eyewear: 'I'm not going to take off my stinking glasses'
Jeb Bush opened up with some rare campaign insight Tuesday night, talking in personal terms about the dizzying array of "pressures" that candidates face "to change who you are."