A Chat with the Man Who Questioned the President

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Harry Taylor infamously engaged the president in conversation at an event in Charlotte, N.C., in April. What's it like to publicly challenge the president? What came next?

NEAL CONAN, Host:

Each day of this last week of 2006 we'll look back at some of the stories of the year and the people who were a part of them. And we begin last April in Charlotte, North Carolina when a man named Harry Taylor slipped to the bubble of optimism that surrounds the president at public events.

HARRY TAYLOR: I have a question. What I want to say to you is that I - in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed or more frightened by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency, by the Senate and -

GEORGE W: Let him stay. Let him speak.

TAYLOR: And I would hope - I feel like, despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration. And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself, inside yourself.

CONAN: Harry Taylor, challenging the president at a forum organized by the World Affair's Council in Charlotte last April. Harry Taylor joins us now from Georgia, where he is attending the holidays with his family. Merry Christmas, Mr. Taylor. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Neal. Merry Christmas to you.

CONAN: And what were you thinking that day in April?

TAYLOR: What was I thinking? I was thinking that I finally get a good chance to do something that I'd wanted to do for a long time, which was confront that guy.

CONAN: Did you go to that event knowing that you wanted to ask that question?

TAYLOR: Well, I knew that I wanted to talk to him. I'd be wanting to talk to him some time, and I didn't know exactly what I was going to say, and I wasn't sure whether I would get in, because we know how hard they've worked to screen people out that differ in their opinions of what they do in the world.

And I didn't know if there was going to be an opportunity to speak once I got in there. And when I first got in there, it looked like there was not going to be an opportunity, and then I saw a microphone, and I thought, well, maybe there's a chance. I worked really hard, proactively, to get the mic and I - and all of a sudden I had it, and there he was.

CONAN: Were you nervous?

TAYLOR: Oh, yeah. Yeah. How could you not be?

CONAN: I must say that thing that you said right after that piece of tape we played was to compliment the president on his willingness to listen to you.

TAYLOR: Mm-hmm. I was really surprised. I have stood up in things like that before and been dismissed, abruptly dismissed and had political leadership who works for me walk away from me in disdain, whatever I had to say, and determined not to listen to what I have to say. So I was really surprised that he allowed me to do that, and I was surprised they didn't haul me out of there bodily.

I wasn't surprised when he interrupted me several times. I wasn't surprised that everybody booed me, because it's one of his forums. But I was really surprised that I got to finish saying what I wanted to say. And with all - with the booing and with him interrupting me, I was surprised that I was able to get it all out in a fashion that was at least half intelligible.

CONAN: Were you satisfied with the answer?

TAYLOR: Was I satisfied with what?

CONAN: With the president's answer.

TAYLOR: No. I didn't asked him a question, Neal.

CONAN: Well, he did go on to answer to some of the remarks you said.

TAYLOR: Yeah. I did not ask him a question, but he grabbed one of his canned responses and he talked about wiretaps. I didn't ask him a question about wiretap. It was one of the comments I made, but I did not ask him a question. I didn't ask him a question specifically because I didn't want to give him an easy way to respond to me. I wanted him to stop and think. That was the whole challenge that I was issuing to him, was gee, you know, think about what you're doing, which he doesn't. But that's his way, I guess.

CONAN: We just have a few seconds left with you, Harry, but I wonder - has your life changed at all since that day?

TAYLOR: Yes and no. It - I feel like I've always - I would always have been interested in having a voice and I have a voice now. And people are interested in what I think and what I have to say, and I value that. And it's not easy. And it's not always comfortable, but it is - it's a time when an ordinary people need to be able to stand up and say things in a way that other people can connect with.

CONAN: Harry Taylor. Thanks very much and Merry Christmas to you.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Neal, you too.

CONAN: Harry Taylor, a businessman from Charlotte, North Carolina, who joins us today from a family gathering in Georgia.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. We'll talk with a newsmaker from 2006 at this time every day this week. Have a Merry Christmas. I am Neal Conan in Washington.

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