Cranking Up The Old Money Machine

President Obama’s State of the Union speech this week drew the lowest ratings in 15 years.  Why?  Because this is America, and we get bored with anything that’s been around for six years.  The President is old news, and nothing he says or does in a wooden speech to politely attentive members of Congress is going to change that reality.

And let’s not forget, too, that we’ve turned the calendar to 2015 — which is the year before the next presidential election, which means we’re due to be bombarded with an increasing barrage of news stories about the would-be candidates who want to take the President’s place at the podium.  As if on cue, supporters of Hillary Clinton have made it known that she will be receiving financial commitments for her anticipated campaign that will be “astounding.”  Their goal in lining up an immediate avalanche of cash is intimidate potential opponents and cause them to refrain from challenging Clinton in the first place.  It’s like a “shock and awe” military campaign applied to American politics.

The article about the Clinton effort doesn’t say what would constitute money commitments that are “astounding” and “like nothing you’ve ever seen,” and it’s hard to imagine that sheer numbers are going to boggle the mind given the amounts being spent on political campaigns already.  The Federal Election Commission estimates, for example, that about $7 billion was spent on the 2012 election.  We’ve come to expect big spending on politics, and many of us get email fundraising appeals every day — even now, with no election on the horizon.  So where is the shock level?  $20 billion?  $50 billion?  $100 billion?

Money is important in politics, obviously, but ultimately money is just money.  Americans spend lots of money on lots of things, such as $7.4 billion on Halloween, $20.5 billion on video games, and $73.9 billion on soda.  You can buy commercial time and produce slick ad campaigns, but if your message isn’t resonating with voters you’re not going to win.

Perhaps the Clinton money machine will scare away some contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, but those fraidy-cats probably weren’t serious challengers, anyway.  If there are politicians out there who truly believe in their positions and want to use a presidential bid to forcefully advocate them, they aren’t going to be cowed by mere money, no matter how much it is.  And don’t forget that America loves an underdog.  A spunky candidate who is seen as bravely challenging the establishment and the aura of inevitability might make that “astounding” amount of money seem like chump change.

Putting The Process Back To Work

President Obama described the last Congress as one of the least productive in history — and he was right.  The last Congress passed only a handful of bills that were ultimately signed into law, and was characterized by constant backbiting and finger-pointing.

As of this week there’s a new Congress in town, one in which both the House and the Senate are controlled by large Republican majorities and have an ambitious legislative agenda.  And already President Obama has signaled that he would veto one of the bills that the Republicans want to pass first — an initiative that would authorize construction of the Keystone pipeline.

Oh, no!  More of that conflict and gridlock that commentators bemoan!  I guess that means the swearing-in of the new Congress won’t change anything, right?

Not so fast!  If I recall my civics lessons, what we’re seeing signs of now is how the process is supposed to work.  The House and Senate write legislation, hold hearings, have floor debates at which amendments are offered, and vote to pass actual, written bills, conference committees resolve differences between the Senate version and the House version, and the President then decides whether to sign or veto.  Public veto threats in advance are one method the President can employ to influence the course and content of legislation.  And if Congress passes the bill and the President carries through on his threat, Congress can decide whether to try to override that veto.

We’ve become so used to a shriveled, do-nothing Congress that seemed to exist simply to react to the initiatives of Presidents Bush and Obama that we’ve forgotten that the legislative branch is supposed to be a powerful, coordinate branch of government.  It’s early yet, obviously, and I certainly won’t agree with the full spectrum of the Republican congressional agenda, but I’m glad that the new Congress at least seems intent on doing what Congress is supposed to be doing — and thereby putting our constitutional process back to work.  After all, the system has worked pretty well for more than 200 years.

An Issue That Captures And Frames The Worst

Immigration is a hugely important, multi-faceted issue.  In a world of many terrorist threats, border security is of paramount importance.  The influx of immigrants who don’t enter the country in an authorized way puts pressure on education, health care, and social benefits systems.  Immigrants are happy to perform physically challenging, low-paying jobs that are essential to our economy.  And what should we do with immigrants who crossed the border illegally but have worked here for years and whose children were born here?

So it is perhaps not surprising — in fact, it’s entirely predictable — that the incredibly important immigration issue manages to encompass much of what is appalling about the current sorry state of American government:  completely politicized yet frozen in place, featuring a legislative branch that is seemingly incapable of acting despite the obvious need for action and a President who can’t lead or forge a compromise and so acts unilaterally, and infused with finger-pointing, cringing political correctness and demagoguery that seems to preclude both rational discussion and reasonable compromise.

President Obama’s decision yesterday to issue sweeping executive orders on immigration issues — orders that will establish new programs that will change the legal status of millions of immigrants, change deportation practices, and end other programs — don’t help matters because they just highlight the politicization of this important issue.  President Obama has previously said, correctly I think, that changing immigration laws and policies through unilateral executive orders would be “very difficult to defend legally.”  The President also earlier had made the decision to defer any action on immigration until after the election, an approach that obviously was calculated to help Senate Democrats up for reelection.  In view of that decision, arguments that unilateral action is urgently needed now ring awfully hollow.

I’m sure that President Obama’s supporters will argue that issuing executive orders of dubious constitutionality is justified here because it will goad Congress into taking action that should have been taken long ago.  That argument is like saying that the behavior of the bully in A Christmas Story was justified because it ultimately provoked Ralphie into standing up for himself.  I’m not buying that, either.  America is supposed to be a constitutional form of government where the executive branch and legislative branch both respect and honor the limitations on their powers.  The fact that Congress has dropped the ball doesn’t excuse the President’s overstepping of his constitutional authority.

I’m not trying to excuse Congress’ leaden inactivity on developing a comprehensive set of immigration reforms or side with the anti-immigration fear-mongers, but I think President Obama’s decision to issue these executive orders is a mistake that will only make it much more difficult to address a crucial issue in the correct, constitutional way.  Brace yourself, because the shrill demagoguery on all sides is about to increase in pitch and volume.

Outsmarting Themselves

One of the more unappealing qualities of our political classes is the vicious, cover-your-ass mentality that you see from so many politicians and their anonymous staffers.  No one wants to get tagged with a failure.  Everyone wants to be seen as the smartest, savviest guy in the room, too.  So they leak, and back-stab, and give not-for-attribution quotes.

We saw that ugly side of the inside-the-Beltway mentality again this week, in a terrific piece in the Washington Post about how the Republicans swept to victory on Tuesday.  David Krone, current Senate Majority Leader’s chief of staff, basically laid the blame for the loss of control of the Senate at the feet of President Obama and his staff.  The President wouldn’t do enough to raise money for vulnerable Senate Democrats, he said, and in the meantime those Democrats were getting dragged down by an increasingly unpopular President who was increasingly seen as mishandling and mismanaging serious problems, like the healthcare.gov website and VA health care.

Of course, the Post piece doesn’t note that Harry Reid’s own strategy made it impossible for the vulnerable Democrats to separate themselves from the President, because Reid consistently refused to allow bills to come to the Senate floor for debate.  As a result, Democratic Senators weren’t permitted to offer amendments or articulate positions that differed from those of the President on controversial issues, and the vast majority of votes taken were of the party-line variety, such as to confirm judicial nominees.  That approach allowed Republicans to launch devastating TV ads noting that the vulnerable Democrats voted with President Obama 97, 98, or 99 percent of the time — percentages that wouldn’t have been so outlandishly high if Reid had actually allowed the legislative process to work as intended.  The “smartest guys in the room” outsmarted themselves.

If only Harry Reid and the other Beltway brainiacs had stopped trying to micromanage the messy political process, Democratic Senators might have avoided a near-total wipeout.  I hope that the Republican Senate leadership learns a lesson from this, loosens the spigots on legislation, and starts debating, amending, and voting on bills to send to the President.  Otherwise, the Republicans, too, might be needing to engage in a little CYA come 2016.

The Voices Of The Non-Voting

President Obama held a post-election press conference yesterday.  The AP says he struck a “defiant” tone; another report says he laid out a “centrist” agenda. These days, it seems, everything is characterized differently depending upon the perspective of the reporter.

I won’t join in that parade, but I did find one of the President’s comments interesting.  He said:  “To everyone who voted, I hear you. To the two thirds of voters who chose not to participate yesterday, I hear you too.”  To my knowledge, no reporter in the room asked the logical follow-up question, which is — “well, what do you think they are saying?”

How do you interpret the meaning of the act of non-voting?  Are non-voters saying that they are so turned off by the political process that they want to have nothing to do with it, or are they saying that they just can’t be bothered to do what many of us consider to be our civic duty?  Is there any message to be heard at all?  Or is the President suggesting, instead, that the results of Tuesday’s election are somehow not meaningful or even legitimate because a large number of people didn’t vote — even though early voting, voting by mail, and other options make voting now easier than it has ever been before?

Any argument that President Obama should be guided by his personal interpretation of the unexpressed wishes of the non-voters is uncomfortably reminiscent of President Nixon’s stubborn insistence that his Administration was supported by a “Silent Majority” of Americans.  Shortly after he was first inaugurated, President Obama met with Republicans and reminded them that “elections have consequences” and he was the winner.  He was absolutely right then, and that sentiment remains correct now.

Actions speak louder than words — or inaction.  If people didn’t vote in the election, after being repeatedly urged to do so by the President, by Republicans, and by hundreds of millions of dollars of TV ads, it was because they didn’t care.  Efforts to discern positions they chose not to express are a waste of time.  The President would be better served by attending to the message sent by those people who cared enough to cast their ballots.

2008 Time Warp

IMG_3471In 2008, the President Obama “Hope” t-shirts and posters were everywhere, so popular that the image became iconic.  You don’t see the image much anymore, with President Obama’s approval ratings sinking in the direction of the 40 percent level, according to the Real Clear Politics average.  However, the “Hope” t-shirts are still being sold at a souvenir stand at Reagan National Airport for $12.99 apiece — although they don’t command nearly as much shelf space as brightly colored, generic “Washington D.C.” hoodies.

Misreading Our Mood

We’re less than a month away from the election — the latest in a string of elections that liberals and conservatives alike want us to treat as the most important election in modern history! — and I wonder how well our political classes even understand the average voter.

A story in yesterday’s New York Times about how an increasingly unpopular President Obama has been “benched” by his party capsulized the issue for me.  The article says that the President hopes, once again, to “pivot” to the economy and give a series of speeches about jobs initiatives and a “clean energy economy,” but his advisers are frustrated because the American people are worried, instead, about a possible Ebola outbreak and the terrorist threat posed by ISIS.  One of the operatives said:  “When people are jumping a fence at the White House and Ebola is in Dallas it’s hard to get a message through.”

No kidding!

And therein lies the problem.  The political types dream of rolling out more wishful policy proposals in grand speeches; they treat real-world problems like Ebola, ISIS, and porous borders as irritants that serve only to distract from the more crucial policymaking process.  The American people, on the other hand, see Ebola, ISIS, and White House security as precisely what the federal government should focus on as its most important priorities.

Epidemics and terrorism are beyond the control of the Average American; they are the big, scary problems that only the government is equipped to handle.  When the big problems arise, we want to hear from clipped, hyper-competent people who have developed careful plans to tackle the problem — not expessions of regret that the deadly plague and the beheadings are preventing politicians from talking about the latest solar energy initiative.

The Times article plays into an important undercurrent in our society.  We know that the governmental types are eager to tell us what to eat, drink, and think.  They want us to accept their assurances that Ebola will never make it to our shores, and then when a man infected with Ebola somehow arrives in Dallas they expect us to believe new assurances that things are nevertheless under control.  Not surprisingly, such statements are greeted with increasing skepticism — and when articles indicate that the President and the politicos are straining at the leash to put Ebola and ISIS behind them and move on to debate about a “clean energy economy,” the skepticism grows, and grows, and grows.  In that context, why should we view statements that Ebola or ISIS are under control as anything other than a convenient effort to sweep the big, scary, problems under the rug so the policymaking games can be played?

It’s not unreasonable for us to want or demand a federal government that understands that the big, scary problems are its most important job, not some mere distraction.  How many voters will enter the voting booths next month with that thought in mind?

The Education of Barack Obama

Last week President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly, which he has done five times before.  He spoke of a “network of death” and the “cancer of violent extremism” in the Middle East and said that “the only language understood by killers like this is the language of force” while promising to lead a coalition to find a military solution to the challenge of ISIS.  The President also had sharp words for Russia, describing it as a “bully” and rejecting its “vision of the world in which might makes right.”

Observers have noted that the UN speech represents a dramatic change in the President’s tone and focus.  A National Journal article compares the six UN speeches and shows a President who has been transformed from a believer in “hope” and “change” and a world in which everyone shares a common interest in peace to a man who realizes that there are bad people in the world, that they want to do evil things, and that the only way they can be thwarted is by deeds, not words.  Optimism — about relations with Russia, about common values and shared dreams, about an inexorable arc of progress toward a rosy future — has been replaced by a recognition that the world right now may be teetering on the brink.

Only two years ago, President Obama mocked Mitt Romney’s realpolitick view of the world and America’s role — I thought an unseemly low point for the President in this regard came during a debate discussion about Russia in which he sarcastically stated that the 1980s had called and wanted its foreign policy back — but now the President has come around to largely adopt Romney’s position, and to use language that is reminiscent of President George W. Bush.  He probably won’t acknowledge that fact, but at least he now recognizes the threats we face and is resolved to do something about them.

Conservatives may criticize the President for being late to the game and for failing to more quickly recognize and respond to the threats posed by ISIS, Russia, and other bad actors on the world stage.  That’s fair, I suppose, but I think most of us learn from experience and modify our views of the world as we go through life.  President Obama also is learning the lessons taught by the School of Hard Knocks.  As we all know, such lessons can painful, but we can hope in this instance that they are lessons that are well-learned.

Protecting The President’s House

How did a man manage to scale a fence and actually enter the White House before being apprehended?  Basically, by the government not paying sufficient attention to the need to protect the President, his family, and the White House itself from a basic physical intrusion.

Omar Gonzalez climbed the fence surrounding the White House, raced across 70 yards of lawn, and entered the building through the North Portico entrance — which, amazingly, was unlocked.  Because he did not appear to be armed, he was not shot, nor did the Secret Service release a dog trained to knock down intruders.  However, Gonzalez in fact was carrying a 3 1/2-inch knife.  Fortunately, the President and his family had left the White House minutes before.  We now are learning that Gonzalez, a former veteran, possessed lots of ammunition, as well as a machete, a hatchet, and other weapons in his car.

White House fence-jumpers are not unusual, and the Washington Post reports that a Secret Service study showed that the White House is vulnerable to attack by multiple people climbing the fence at the same time.  The Post also notes that there are “severe staffing shortages” and high turnover in the force charged with White House security.  Due to budgetary concerns the Secret Service decided not to fully staff the division in charge of White House grounds, to cancel Secret Service Academy training classes, and to not pay agents overtime.  The Post article quotes a Secret Service spokesman as saying:  “There is not an endless amount of money. We can’t do the hiring, and that’s the decision that was made.”

Seriously?  The federal government has spent money like a drunken sailor for years, running up enormous budget deficits, and we can’t afford to fully staff the agency charged with keeping the President and his family safe?  Here’s a suggestion:  take whatever money is spent producing and broadcasting useless “Click It or Ticket” commercials and use it to hire, train, and properly pay Secret Service agents.  And while you’re at it, let’s get an additional dog or two and use them the next time a guy jumps the White House fence.

The Secret Service used to be viewed as an elite agency, but its reputation has taken a beating in recent years, with people not on the guest list crashing White House dinners, scandals about liquored-up agents consorting with prostitutes, and now an inexcusable breach of security by the most low-tech attack imaginable.  Someone in the federal government needs to get our priorities straight and realize that protecting the President is of paramount importance.  Budgetary concerns shouldn’t be part of the equation.

That Unseemly Campaign Mode

Kish and I watched President Obama’s speech about our response to the depravations of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria last night.  I think we have to do something about those vicious Islamic terrorists, so I am glad the President has decided to take action.  As for his strategy — well, if it doesn’t work, we can try something else.  The main takeaway is that we’re going to act, once again, in an effort to lead the world to a better place.

The President struck a jarring note at the end of the speech, when he invoked both the 9/11 attack and the economic downturn of 2008 and argued that the United States “is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.”  He added:

“Our technology companies and universities are unmatched. Our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day, and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.”

This snippet of happy-talk was dubious — Our universities are great when they are gouging students with outrageous tuitions and producing debt-crippled graduates?  Our auto industries are thriving when GM produces defective cars while living on federal support? — and obviously has nothing to do with ISIS or terrorism.  It came across as unseemly politicking as a mid-term election approaches and thereby detracted from the rest of the speech.  Perhaps the President doesn’t realize it, but when he is addressing national security and describing our strategy to defeat another bloody terrorist group and then veers into campaign mode, he presents himself as focused on internal politics and less than serious about the external mission he is announcing. It’s not a positive juxtaposition.

Today marks another anniversary of 9/11 and, as a result of the President’s speech last night, we will open another front in the long and difficult struggle against terrorism.  The memories of that black day 13 years ago remain raw and painful.  Due respect for 9/11 requires that our leaders continue to focus on our bipartisan, national goal of keeping our country safe from another attack.  When 9/11 is invoked, electioneering should not follow.

The President’s Speech About ISIS

Tonight President Obama will give a nationally televised address about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the group of murderous terrorists who have seized territory in those countries and intend to establish their own nation.  It’s an important speech for the President, and for our country.

It’s important for the President because he desperately needs to reestablish his credibility in the area of foreign affairs.  He has been dogged by ill-advised comments, like the one describing ISIS as a kind of “junior varsity” squad, that paint him as possessing a curious mixture of overconfidence, naivete, and ignorance about history and human motivation.

The President seems to believe that an inevitable historical arc will move us toward a world of eternal peace, diversity, and right-thinking people who inevitably will adopt every democratic liberal precept — without realizing that there are fanatics, like those who make up ISIS and Boko Haram, that are dead set on establishing an historical arc that bends in precisely the opposite direction.  In the past, President Obama has been unwilling to admit that he’s made mistakes, but if the brutality of ISIS at least causes him to shed his rose-colored glasses about the dangerous world outside our borders that’s a step in the right direction.

As for the country, it’s important that we recognize that ISIS is a different, and immensely significant, threat.  Unlike itinerant terrorist groups like al Qaeda that move from place to place depending on local conditions and shifting political winds, ISIS intends to establish a nation.  It has captured funds and an arsenal of weapons from Iraq and seeks to control oil wells and oil refineries that would provide long-term, ongoing funding for its terrorist aims.

There is an additional dangerous element to ISIS.  Any group that would videotape and publicize its beheading of innocent journalists obviously doesn’t subscribe to accepted social norms, and ISIS’ treatment of civilians and captured soldiers in Syria and Iraq further speak to its utter brutality and depravity.  ISIS actively seeks to recruit like-minded jihadists from countries across the globe, including the United States and Great Britain, and it’s not shy about describing its intention to take the jihadist fight to our homeland.  We should take them at their word.  No one should doubt that ISIS poses a grave threat to America, and if we don’t act to punish and defeat them the threat will only grow more severe.

According to the Washington Post, tonight the President will announce a plan to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, and Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East building support for broader action against ISIS.  This seems like a mirror image of the situation before the first Gulf War, when the actions of a rogue state threatened to destabilize an entire region and spread chaos on a much wider scale.  It’s time for the United States to form and lead a coalition, again, to defeat the latest rabid threat to the world to spring from ever-fertile grounds of the Middle East.

If President Obama is willing to accept that responsibility, I support him.  I don’t think we have any choice.

Functional Disenfranchisement

According to an AP story, President Obama has decided to refrain from issuing any executive orders on immigration until after the election.  The sources for the story are “two White House officials” who probably are floating the idea as a kind of trial balloon.

The President had promised immigration advocates that he would take action by the end of the summer, so they are disappointed and angry about the President’s decision.  The decision is expected to help certain “vulnerable” Democratic Senators who are facing tough reelection campaigns this year.  The story reports that the officials said that the President “concluded that circumventing Congress through executive actions on immigration during the campaign would politicize the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul.”  At the same time, the President apparently says he will take executive action, without any congressional involvement, by the end of the year.

Does the President really expect anyone to believe that his decision is an attempt to avoid politicizing the issue?  That depiction of his motives is laughably false.  It’s obvious that the contrary is true:  the President recognizes that immigration is a hot-button issue, and issuing aggressive executive orders is just going to hurt the Democrats who — unlike the President — are facing the voters this November.  The effect of the delay in any action by the President is entirely political; it will avoid anyone being held accountable if the voters happen to disagree with whatever edicts the President issues.

We’ve heard lots of talk about people being disenfranchised by policies, for example, that limit early voting.  This decision is the functional equivalent of disenfranchisement; it’s just a more duplicitous approach.  Wait until after an election to protect incumbents, then have a lame-duck President issue executive orders and hope that voters are focused on some other issues by the time the 2016 election rolls around.  Reliance on executive orders of dubious constitutionality to make huge changes to federal law and practices is distorting the political process, encouraging Congress to do nothing except raise more campaign funds, and stripping us of our ability to influence national policy through our votes.

Mr. President, you’re not fooling me, and I doubt that you’re fooling anyone else.  If you are going to make huge changes to immigration policy, at least have the guts and fairness to do so before the election, so voters can have their say about your actions.

The No-Strategy Strategy

President Obama — having built his political career on his ability to deliver a well-crafted speech — should be well aware of the power of words.  Does he regret his statement last Thursday that the United States doesn’t “have a strategy yet” for how to deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?  Or could it possibly be that he was telling the truth, and our country has, up to now, failed to develop a strategy to deal with a murderous group of Islamic fanatics who are attempting to establish a full-fledged terrorist state and who believe they can behead Americans with impunity and did so, again, yesterday?

We live in weird time right now, when America seems to be more self-absorbed than a teenager posting countless selfies on a Facebook page.  After President Obama made his “we don’t have a strategy yet” statement, some commentators focused on the tan suit he was wearing and talked about whether it projected a sufficiently powerful image.  Others saw the statement as a “gaffe” and immediately began to speculate about the potential political repercussions.  Still others were quick to declare the comment as President Obama’s “malaise” moment, recalling President Carter’s ill-fated “malaise” speech, when many people believe he finally lost the trust and support of many Americans.  And such statements can come back to bite, politically — as the devastating front page photo and headline of today’s New York Daily News demonstrates.

Of course, terrorists don’t care what kind of clothes our President is wearing when he makes a statement, and foreign leaders in faraway lands aren’t obsessed with figuring out whether a President’s comment will affect how Republicans and Democrats are going to perform in midterm elections.  Their analysis is a lot more straightforward:  what is the President saying, and will he back it up?  From that perspective, compare President Obama’s statement to Teddy Roosevelt’s famous threat after a tribal leader in Morocco took a U.S. resident hostage:  “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.”  You might call that statement saber-rattling, but you can’t mistake the message or the resolution behind it.

Things aren’t going well for America in the world right now.  From Asia to Africa, in Ukraine, in the Middle East, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we are seeing a resurgence of terrorism and adventurism that obviously is contrary to core American interests.  If a foreign leader is trying to decide whether to work with America, secretly or openly, to try to address these problems, how is that leader likely to react to a dithering statement to the effect that the world’s most powerful country doesn’t know how to respond to barbarism and terrorism?  Even if the United States in fact doesn’t have a strategy — and we can all hope that is not true — there is absolutely no value in announcing that to the world.

President Obama has made a bad misstep here, not because of its potential impact on internal American politics but because of its potential impact on broader American interests in the world.

Time To Skip A Few Fundraisers

Yesterday Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California was asked about whether President Obama should alter his current schedule, which includes attending a number of fundraising events, so that he can focus more on some of the crises in the world, such as the downing of the passenger jet over the Ukraine by pro-Russian forces, the surge by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the escalated Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza.  Senator Feinstein’s response was delicately phrased.  She said that the world would very much respect his “increased attention” to these matters, because the Leader of the Free World needs to lead in such times.

President Obama has attended a lot of fundraisers during his tenure in office.  The Washington Post recently calculated that he has held 393 fundraisers while in office, which is more than George W. Bush’s total during his full two terms but not quite as many as Bill Clinton’s record.  It’s not hard to understand why Presidents like fundraisers.  By definition, it’s a friendly gathering — after all, everyone else in attendance is ponying up thousands of dollars to be there, and obviously they’re not paying that much for the food — and at the end of the event the President can see tangible results and tote up the money he’s raised to support candidates who will support his agenda.

The Obama Administration no doubt would contend that the President is fully in touch with his national security team and capable of dealing with these crises whether he’s in the Oval Office or wearing a tux at some glittering event.  Maybe . . . although the combination of world events and the mess at our border raise legitimate questions about whether the President is fully in control of events.  In any case, I think Senator Feinstein has put her finger on something significant.

Appearances and messaging are important in today’s world.  It’s hard to successfully characterize something as a crisis if you can’t be bothered to change your schedule and skip non-essential events in order to work the phones with international leaders and build working coalitions to deal with the problem.  When the President goes to fundraisers in the midst of these events, he’s implicitly communicating that he is more concerned about Republicans than he is about the Middle East, or the Ukrainian separatist activities, or the influx of unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants.

Senator Feinstein recognizes that — and, I suspect, so do the perpetrators of the events that have given rise to these crises in the first place.  I think it’s time for the President to skip a few fundraisers.

The Guy In The Horse Head Mask

On a recent visit to Denver, President Obama shook hands with a guy wearing a horse head mask.  The photo of the incident is weird, and it will find its place in the ever-growing photo album of weird presidential events, like President Nixon’s meeting with Elvis and President Carter’s ill-fated encounter with the killer rabbit.

Apparently, wearing a horse head mask is some kind of bizarre internet meme that traces its roots to an inexplicable and disturbing Japanese anime character.  Who knew? 

Of course, it’s shocking that the Secret Service would allow any masked individual — much less a horse-masked individual — to get within handshake distance of the President, but let’s leave that aside and think about the guy wearing the mask instead.  Why wear a horse mask when you are shaking the hand of the President?  Even if you were just wearing it as a matter of course on your stroll around Denver when the President’s entourage happened by, wouldn’t you remove the mask before shaking the President’s hand?  If you specifically brought the horse mask because you knew where the President was going to be walking — which also would mean a security lapse, by the way — then you were obviously doing it as a disrespectful razz on the President.  But, why a horse mask rather than a sign?  What meaningful message is sent when you wear a horse mask when greeting a politician?  Are you just indicating that it’s all a joke?

As for the President . . . well, this incident didn’t turn out to do anything more than produce a weird and somewhat embarrassing photo.  In the future, though, I hope he would have the judgment and good sense to avoid physical contact with mask-wearing people or other oddball types.  A guy wearing a horse mask is probably capable of just about anything, and reaching out to shake his hand when there are plenty of other, normally attired individuals available seems like a bad decision.