Obama in Palo Alto: Fundraising with the Rich Radicals
President Obama arrived in the Bay Area on Thursday for his umpty-umpteenth round of fundraisers with big-money donors, this time to benefit the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
His first stop at the home of multi-millionaire tech entrepreneur Michael McCue in an upscale suburban corner of Palo Alto didn't go quite as planned when protesters showed up and made a ruckus, despite the White House's determined attempts to keep the location of the fundraiser secret.
At first the tree-lined street outside the fundraiser was calm and cheerful. Even Mike McCue himself (waving, in the white shirt) came outside to chat with the attendees standing in line to be cleared for entry by the Secret Service.
Millionaires sweltering in the hot sun, waiting to be patted down and searched by men in military uniforms; welcome to the 21st century. They must have appreciated the pep talk from their host.
No one there (except me) yet knew that a raucous protest was about to break out. For the moment, everything was calm.
Soon Mike even came over to where I was and started chatting with the neighbors, most of whom he seemed to be meeting for the first time. We exchanged pleasantries before asking him how one goes about becoming the host for a presidential fundraiser. He acted like it was a breeze, not much more difficult than picking up the phone and making a few calls and letting nature take its course. I guess it helps to be a fabulously wealthy tech entrepreneur and dot-com jillionaire.
But Mike was, in all honesty, a very friendly guy, though perhaps a bit in need of orthodontia. He noticed that one of his neighbors had set up a very cutesy all-American lemonade stand, the proceeds from which would all be donated to "support USA" (i.e., the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee).
He praised the "little entrepreneur" staffing the booth and even forked over the suggested $5 (!!!) for a tiny cup of lemonade, which (despite the misleading marketing gimmick of fresh lemons displayed in a basket) was actually just Minute Maid's "Simply Lemonade" brand (see bottle at lower left) masquerading as home-squeezed.
"This is the best $5 sip of Coca-Cola subsidiary store-bought lemonade I've ever tasted!" he said (or something to that effect) to the local moms, who were still trying to grill him about Obama.
This being suburbia, the neighborhood toddlers gathered 'round and waved little American flags.
Now, if you're locked into believing certain stereotypes about American political categories and class divisions and regional allegiances, you might be confused about all this. Are McCue's neighbors and fundraiser attendees all rich elitist lily-white patriotic capitalist 1%ers — or are they hippy-dippy socialism-sympathizing liberal California Obama-worshippers? Ah, but you see, this is Palo Alto, where the answer is: Both.
Let me explain.
I took a stroll around the neighborhood to help me understand the vibe of the place. The Crescent Park area of Palo Alto is the kind of neighborhood where the smallest fixer-uppers sell for $3 million and the average resident drives a Maserati or a BMW.
Where Perfectly American Kids and Perfectly American Dogs wear perfectly cute little American flag hats while waiting to cheer the motorcade of an anti-American politician...
...while the paperboy delivers copies of Wealth magazine to people's front lawns.
Where rows of brown-skinned valets patiently wait to park your car for you...
...that car being a BMW with "Wage Peace" and "Obama" bumpers stickers.
Where fabulously wealthy Stanford patrons will happily endure a body-search by the Bomb Squad for the rarified privilege of breathing the same air as Obama for one blissful hour.
And afterward buy a few souvenirs from the local button-peddler who showed up to sell...
...Che Guevara, Frida Kahlo (with her hammer-and-sickle) and Bradley Manning buttons to the Obama supporters.
Does that clear things up for you? Or is your head just spinning?
Yes, Palo Alto is one of those few places in America densely populated by the kind of citizens that don't fit in to the traditional political framework: Rich radicals. These are not your hardcore Berkeley ideologues nor your violent Oakland revolutionaries nor even your smug San Francisco ironic hipsters. Nor are they top-hat wearing high society cigar-smoking paleo-Republicans. No, these are postmodern hypocritical millionaires motivated by a desire to not feel guilty about living their lives of luxury. And the easiest way to assuage that guilt is Vote and Donate Obama.
These people are not supposed to exist according to any standard model of the American landscape, but in fact they are Obama's core constituency and what they lack in demographic heft they more than make up for in campaign contributions.