The Stench of Elitism Hung Heavy in the Air
Barack Obama returned triumphant to San Francisco on Tuesday and was welcomed by throngs of cheering supporters.
You'd think he'd receive a hero's homecoming, considering that San Francisco is the most liberal big city in the nation and its residents voted for him in overwhelming numbers. But in stark reality, here's the full extent of the cheering section that awaited him:
A grand total of two people.
Incredible as it may seem, these were the only two identifiably pro-Obama demonstrators I saw all day. On the other hand, there were hundreds upon hundreds of fiercely anti-Obama protesters, attacking him from...
..the left, and...
How did we get here? Let's go back to the beginning of the day and tell the story chronologically.
Boxer fundraiser at the Fairmont Hotel
Obama was in town for one primary reason: To raise money for Barbara Boxer's struggling Senate re-election campaign. He was to attend two events: The first one a gala reception at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, and the second a fundraising dinner at the Getty mansion in Pacific Heights.
Yet things didn't go exactly as you might have imagined.
While wealthy people who had paid as much as $2,000 each lined up to enter the Fairmont, across the street...
...was a large and raucous protest against Obama and Boxer.
And it wasn't just one group, or even one half of the political spectrum. Obama was whipsawed, pummelled from all sides simultaneously. Left-wingers, right-wingers, pacifists, libertarians, communists, conservatives, people angry about the BP oil spill, people angry that Obama's healthcare reform bill didn't go far enough, others angry that it went too far, extremists, moderates, and everyone in between on both sides of the aisle.
In short, it was the people who came out to express their displeasure with Obama and Boxer. Regular folks, San Francisco-style -- which means plenty of leftist ideologues, but also now a substantial contingent of heretofore unseen conservatives who had for decades stayed mute until Obama's agenda touched such a raw nerve that they could remain mute no more.
So, while the commoners (such as this contingent of Tea Partiers) jostled for space to make their voices heard on the sidewalk across the street from the hotel...
...the wealthy aristocrats one by one were ushered into the hotel's inner sanctum after showing the police guards their $2,000 admission tickets. So my statement at the beginning of this essay wasn't entirely accurate. True, there were only two street protesters in favor of Obama, but he was welcomed by several hundred people. It's just that those hundreds of welcomers were all rich donors who bought access to the president's presence. And we shall soon see that this Fairmont reception was actually for the riffraff among the aristocrats; later in the day, the real plutocrats shelled out $35,200 per couple to see the Pres at the Getty mansion on Billionaires' Row.
This whole sorry state of affairs might not be particularly noteworthy with most politicians, since most politicians are blatant money-grubbers. But Obama campaigned and positioned himself as a left-wing populist, "a man of the people," someone whose run for office was supposedly fueled by $5 donations from the average shmoe, a representative of the common man who would kick out the lobbyists and put an end to the system of big money buying influence and access.
Instead, we got this: Millionaire liberals in tailored suits replacing the country-club Republicans in the inner circles of power. While the average American, as always, was left out in the rain.
Today in San Francisco, the stench of elitism hung heavy in the air.
Back in the cage, commoners!
Many of the news reports about the president's visit focused on the diverse nature of the protesters arrayed against him. This video made early in the protest by an independent media company called Shaky Hand Productions walks the viewer down the block and identifies many -- but nowhere near all -- of the protest groups:
Despite the videographer's amazement that left-wingers and right-wingers and everyone in between could be unified in their loathing of Obama, this is not actually anything new: Ever since Obama's election a year and a half ago, Bay Area protests have frequently had left-wingers and conservatives simultaneously criticizing Obama from opposite camps. (Actually, I documented Republicans protesting alongside the extreme left-wing as far back as October, 2007 -- but that's a different story altogether.)
Here's what I saw outside the Fairmont while Obama was being heckled inside. (Later in this essay, we'll travel to Obama's next stop at the Getty mansion.)
The top of Nob Hill -- San Francisco's poshest neighborhood -- is not a comfortable place for a protest. The demonstrators were all corralled onto the sidewalk facing the Fairmont Hotel, and so necessarily arrayed themselves into a long line. Although there were no formal "camps" for each ideology, the protest naturally manifested as a political spectrum, with the left-wingers and socialists at the south end of the block and the conservatives and libertarians tending toward the north end. So when I first arrived from Union Square to the south, I initially encountered CodePink, who had encamped at the corner of Mason and California. Here, the Pinkers are protesting against Obama's and the Democratic congress' (including Senator Boxer) continued funding of the war in Afghanistan and operations in Iraq.
CodePink's other pet project these days is denouncing Obama's use of drones to attack terror targets in Pakistan.
Never content to focus on one issue, like a hyperactive puppy, CodePink also produced a ridiculously oversized banner which was supposed to read "IS CLIMATE CHANGE THE ONLY CHANGE WE GET? -- a rather comical sentiment considering the chilly downpour soaking this rally in late May -- but it was so huge that all they could do was lay it sideways and try to prop it up from behind, rendering it indecipherable to all but the most dedicated sign-readers (such as yours truly).
Nearby was one of Boxer's opponents in the Senatorial race, Marsha Feinland of the Peace & Freedom Party. Marsha was holding her own low-end fundraiser in protest against the $2,000-a-plate Boxer fundraiser across the street: $1 for a cup of juice and some cubes of cheese (notice the sign at the lower left). I've encountered Feinland repeatedly at protests over the years, and while I confess that I oppose most of the untenable utopian political positions she espouses, I can genuinely say that she seems like a nice enough person; she's very down-to-earth and has a sense of humor, quite unlike her opponent Madame Highness Her Majesty Senatorissima Boxer.
Nearby were some universal healthcare advocates.
Despite a seeming overlap with Feinland's healthcare position, the "Medicare for all" people turned out to be Democrat-voting union members who were among the very few people on the scene professing to support Boxer, and I overheard some harsh words and bickering between the Feinland and Boxer camps.
Frost-Paw the Polar Bear showed up to protest against oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic.
He nonchalantly took his place in the protest line.
Some of the Millionaires for Boxer across the street saw Frost-Paw and were like WTF??
Next up were the GLOBAMA cultists. One has the feeling that their entire movement started with someone coming up with the word GLOBAMA and then they subsequently concocted a cause to match the word.
The cause ended up being "Solar on the White House" -- a drive to have solar panels installed on the White House roof. One wonders whether they're serious or not. I mean, considering that Obama's other stop in the Bay Area was at the Solyndra company in Fremont to which he just gave $535 million in taxpayer money to publicly fund the construction of a privately-owned solar panel factory (now it's my turn: WTF??), what's the point of a purely symbolic gesture like putting a couple solar panels on the White House roof? If the guy is already doling out billions in government handouts to solar companies, the need for symbolic gestures is long past. Methinks they just like the word "GLOBAMA" and they haven't put much thought into it beyond that.
The "Seize BP" contingent was fairly large. Their goal is first to have the government seize and take control of BP (as punishment for the Deepwater Horizon spill), and eventually to nationalize, Chavez-style, the entire oil industry. They're frustrated with Obama for his slow pace in dismantling the capitalist system. Patience, people, patience! He's still got over two years left at least -- anything is possible.
Various socialist and communist groups manned the barricades, while Truthers wandered about. Par for the course in San Francisco.
The videographer who listed the various groups in the video embedded above missed out on the full extent of the "diversity," to phrase it gently. Among the harder-to-notice groups were...
...the one-world government advocates (don't laugh -- they've already set up a Provisional World Parliament to rule over you from afar)...
...the anti-Israel activists...
...the Free Leonard Peltier monomaniacs...
...The Maoists at World Can't Wait...
...and the Revolutionary Communist Party.
An indentation in the barricades served as sort of a de facto no-man's-land separating the "progressive" anti-Obama/anti-Boxer protesters from the "conservative" anti-Obama/anti-Boxer protesters. Let's cross over.
Oh my! Those Tea Partiers! They are so EXTREME!!!!
Many on the "right" side of the protest were focused on taxes (i.e. lowering them) and economic issues.
There was a palpable anticipation of an anti-Obama blowback in the upcoming November elections.
I had never realized until today just how intensely disliked Barbara Boxer is among certain sectors of the population.
This guy had the harshest anti-Boxer message on one side of his placard...
And a slightly more lighthearted one on the other side.
The Carly Fiorina for Senate campaign (Boxer's presumptive Republican opponent in the upcoming general election) engaged in a bit of semi-astroturfing by sending "protesters" outside Boxer's Fairmont fundraiser. These Fiorina fans were "boxing against Boxer" (a pretty lame campaign metaphor, frankly). The presence of "Republican protesters" astounded some liberal pundits, for some reason; you can see one of them here mockingly interviewing the Fiorina boxers.
The Fiorina people also had the most eye-catching protest gimmick of the day, a giant blimp with the words "Stop the Hot Air," part of Fiorina's "failedsenator.com" anti-Boxer campaign which portrays Boxer as a gigantic menacing blimp -- one of several completely bizarre Fiorina ads.
One wonders what the bloggers over at HotAir think of their namesake blimp.
The Kook Zone
At the far edge of the protest was a small unofficial "kook zone" where the more fringe-y elements congregated. These are the people that many in the media want to conflate with the Tea Party, but which in reality have their own outside-the-mainstream beliefs.
The actual, official Tea Party contingent did not show up until about halfway through the protest, so in the early minutes of the event there was a higher percentage of kooky types mingling amongst the freelance Tea Partiers and and fiscal conservatives.
For example, the LaRouchites, who have showed up recently at both left-wing rallies and at Tea Parties (though, as the linked picture shows, they were less welcome at the Tea Parties), positioned themselves at the far edge of the protest with their now-notorious Obama-Hitler signs. Interesting side note: the LaRouche crew have taken to sending out African-American members to display the Obama-Hitler pictures as a way to defuse any accusations of racism.
The Alex Jones InfoWars kooks were scattered up and down the block; the ones who doubted the reality of 9/11 tended to hang out in the left-wing zone, whereas...
...the anti-tax InfoWars-ites hung out with the more sane fiscal conservatives.
There were a surprisingly large number of them. This Jonesian walked up and down the block filming everyone all day long. Is it acceptable to be paranoid about the paranoiacs?
And for the first time in my life I encountered an honest-to-goodness "birther" -- someone who thinks Obama wasn't born in the US. Note how on this side of the guy's sign, everything is spelled correctly. Hold that thought as we move to the next theme:
I resist using the term "Teabonics," coined by the Left to mock misspelled signs at Tea Parties, mainly because the term itself is insulting...toward blacks. The presumption embedded in the word "Teabonics," a riff on "Ebonics," is that Ebonics is just misspelled English. But the whole point behind the push for "Ebonics" in education was not that black people can't spell correctly, but rather that "Black English Vernacular" (as it was called in my schooldays) is a legitimate full-fledged dialect of English with its own spelling conventions.
Furthermore, the misspellings at these protests (including at this one) are not always by Tea Partiers themselves but often by fringe kooks. For example...in the previous photo the Birther's sign was spelled correctly, but when he flipped it around to show the other side...
...he left the "h" out of "White House." Why???
One of the Alex Jones-ite anti-Federal Reserve conspiracy theorists also left an "h" out of "nothing." Yawn.
And someone -- I couldn't tell what side they were on -- left an "e" out of "foreclose."
But far and away the single most embarrassing sign was an apparent Tea Party sympathizer who misspelled "socialist" as "solialist." Not a big deal in the slightest, I understand, but on such trivialities does the Left thrive these days. Taking into account the vastly greater percentage of misspellings at left-wing rallies over the last several years, I'd say the Tea Party was actually doing pretty well.
I couldn't hang around this particular event all day, as I had other spots to visit on the Obama protest itinerary! So I give you one final funny juxtapostion before heading off to the next stop....
Immigration Rights Anti-Obama Protest
Just one block away, on the steps of Grace Cathedral, there was yet another protest directed at Obama, but apparently situated here because there was no room at the
inn Fairmont. This one lambasted Obama for failing to live up to his promises on immigration (i.e. his promise to grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants and to loosen immigration rules). You can see the Fairmont in the distance behind the reddish building.
This event was more carefully choreographed and stage-managed. A procession of left-leaning religious leaders took the microphone and denounced federal immigration laws and any attempts to enforce them. Here, someone whom I presumed was a rabbi spoke about the Jews' long history of progressive activism, while behind him an imam and some priests and ministers awaited their turns.
Next to the speakers was an Aztec dance troupe -- now a standard feature at many immigration rallies.
Obama Returns to Billionaires' Row
Back in April of 2008, before Obama had even won the Democratic nomination for president, I documented his visit to "Billionaires' Row, a stretch of Broadway in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood that is legendary for having more billionaires than any other neighborhood in the country.
Well, I got the scoop that, after this Fairmont fundraiser, Obama would return to the Getty mansion on Billionaires' Row for yet another fundraiser, this one with the astonishing price of $35,200 per couple, which works out to $17,600 person. In sum, Obama and Boxer raked in $1.7 million for a few hours' work, to be allocated among the Democrats according to this complicated formula:
Contributions to California Senate 2010 will be allocated as follows: The first $4,800 of each contribution from a person will be allocated to the Friends of Barbara Boxer. The first $2,400 of each contribution will be considered designated for the primary election; the second $2,400 will be considered designated for the general election. The next $30,400 of each contribution from a person will be allocated to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Inc. The next $10,000 of each contribution from a person will be allocated to the Democratic State Central Committee of California-Federal.Of course, $35,200 is just the minimum; you can shell out more if you want to. They just publish the cookie-jar waiting-list so you know where your inherited dollars are going.
I find it hard to believe that there are Americans who still believe the old narrative that the Democratic Party is somehow the party of the "common folk," the poor and the middle class -- whereas the Republican Party is the party of the rich. In California, at least, it tends to be the other way around: the super-rich elites, as well as the Hollywood elites, tend to position themselves as "liberals" and donate money to liberal politicians; whereas the hardscrabble lower-middle class who tend to live in the low-value inland areas away from the overpriced coast tend to vote Republican and have conservative values. Of course there are exceptions to this rule (there are conservative California millionaires too), but overall it seems to be generally true.
So, if anything, in California at least (and I suspect elsewhere in the country as well), the Republicans now have more of a right to be called "the party of the common folk" than the Democrats do.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than on Billionaires' Row and adjacent neighborhoods in Nancy Pelosi's district, where insanely rich people fancy themselves to be "liberals" and donate wheelbarrows of cash to Obama, Boxer and other liberal candidates. Are they hypocrites, or do they just like betting on what they assume will be the winning horse?
Now that Obama is in office, it has become quite apparent that the "pay-for-play" system of political influence has not gone away in the slightest; all Obama's rhetoric was nothing more than (to borrow a phrase I once saw on a blimp) hot air.
Which brings us back to the photo at the beginning of this report. After I left Nob Hill and arrived in Pacific Heights, I found that the police and the Secret Service had completely blocked off access to the Getty mansion. At the barricades I found the first and only two "average folk" Obama supporters of the day, clutching a "We Believe in You!!!" sign and hoping to see his motorcade pass by.
Yes: Hard as it may be to imagine, there are still people in this country who support Obama. They're not extinct yet!
One by one, the police let the limousines and Lincoln Town Cars in through the barricades to the passengers' appointments with The One. Interestingly, each chauffeur gained access by displaying to the police guards a secret text-message that each paid guest was sent; one by one, the drivers were asked "Do you have the text?" and cell-phones were extended out the windows as proof, at which point they were waved through. I wonder what the texts said: "Congratulations: You are an oligarch!"
Frustrated, I went up to the next intersection, only to discover that it too was blocked off with a police barricade. I was told, "You can't go down there." Hmmmm. (Notice the blue porta-potty on the right.)
Never one to take "No" for an answer, and having an insider's knowledge of the local landscape, I knew that there was a secret footpath which led through the Presidio to the back end of Billionaires' Row. So I walked down to the Presidio entrance gate, and down to the path, and up through the bushes to...
...a much closer vantage point. The tent you see in the distance turned out to be the Presidential Limousine Tent, as I later discovered.
I passed through the metal gates and looked to my right -- I was now down at the bottom of the block which I had just been informed was off-limits. (Notice the blue porta-potty again.)
I was now just a few hundred feet from the Getty mansion with nothing but an open road in front of me. But I knew that any further approach would invite trouble (quite unlike the first time Obama visited here, when we bystanders were allowed to come right up to the mansion, and he even came over and shook our hands). So instead I asked the cops if I could hang around and rubberneck with the two neighbor ladies standing nearby. The cops agreed.
Down at the end of the block was a white tent in front of the Getty mansion, which from this angle is only barely visible behind the trees. The streets surrounding the tent were barricaded for two blocks in every direction. Even here in the richest neighborhood in America, security was ultra-tight.
Just as in Obama's 2008 visit, car-parking valets pelted up and down the street after finding open parking spots in the surrounding area for the chauffeured limousines; this time, however, they wore yellow jackets, either for protection from the rain or to identify them as having security clearance.
Finally, Obama's motorcade arrived. Turns out the tent had been erected so that his limousine could enter it while he was still aboard, and then once inside the curtains were pulled so that he could disembark and walk down a covered tent-tunnel directly into the Getty mansion without ever being outside.
From my reverse angle, I couldn't get a decent view of the action, but an enterprising cameraman for Channel 5 used a telephoto video camera to capture the moment of the O's arrival; you can see the video here. The two images above are screenshots from the video.
And so another Obama visit to the Ruling Class of San Francisco came to an end. And least as far as we hoi polloi could tell.
Meet the new boss: same as, if not worse than, the old boss.