When Obama’s motorcade rocketed around San Francisco on Monday, very few locals even noticed his presence, and fewer still cared. The crowds awaiting him at each presidential fundraiser were by far the smallest I’d seen in over five years of covering his visits here. Ticket sales to at least one of the events were so sluggish that prices had to be lowered to fill the empty seats. Out in the street, rubberneckers and protesters had dwindled to the bare minimum. This is what happens when a hero disappoints: you don’t turn on him in anger, but rather just tune him out and move on to other interests.
Yet even with the small turnout, there was a theme amongst Obama’s protesters/supporters (supportesters?): They didn’t want him to change his political agenda — instead, they demanded that he assume dictatorial powers so that he could finally implement the radical plans with which they already agree. The message of the day was: Stop dilly-dallying around, Mr. President: Ignore the Constitution and just make The Revolution happen, as you promised!
That message would be disturbing enough all on its own, but it becomes much more disturbing when you suspect (as I do) that many of these pro-totalitarian protesters were astroturfed. In other words: Is the White House scripting/encouraging/guiding protesters on the left to beg him to become a dictator? So that later, he can explain, “I had no choice — the people demanded it!” Or is Obama simply telegraphing to his supporters that they should not be so disappointed when he throws in the towel and gives up even trying to achieve anything in his second term?
Let’s see what happened on Monday, and you can judge for yourself.
Obama’s first fundraiser of the day was at the Betty Ong Recreation Center, on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown. To deflect the constant criticism that he merely treats the city as a big ATM machine, this time he decided to give one “substantive” speech during the visit, on the topic of immigration. About 40 immigration activists showed up to — well, “protest” isn’t really the right word.
The leaders of the group handed out press releases to anyone who was interested.
As you can see in this zoomed-in image, they were urging Obama to “use his executive power” to simply declare immigration laws into or out of existence, bypassing the Congress and the democratic process.
Inside the event, the exact same thing happened — on stage! One of the human props standing behind the president during his speech suddenly started shouting at Obama to change immigration laws by imperial decree. Obama turned around and allowed the heckler to speak his mind, and then even let him remain on stage as Obama patiently explained that, as frustrating as it might be to activists, the president can’t simply wave a magic wand and make laws disappear. Needless to say, Obama was roundly praised for hearing the guy out, and for allowing him to stay, and then giving him a wise answer.
Was this simply a case of a human prop gone wild? Well, as was obvious to many viewers (watch the interchange in the video above and come to your own conclusions), the whole interaction was likely a scripted set-up: the heckler was a stand-in for all the activists to Obama’s left who are frustrated that Obama isn’t more “forceful” in exercising unconstitutional executive decrees; Obama’s response was not just to the one guy on stage but to all his frustrated allies on the far left. And of course it was all pre-arranged to make Obama look reasonable and heroic.
(The heckler, Ju Hong, claims that his outburst was spontaneous and unplanned; but considering that he was invited on-stage by the White House specifically because he was an Obama-supporting illegal immigrant, and considering how Obama not only let him go unpunished but then repeatedly used the outburst as a reference point in his scripted speech, Hong’s claims of “unrehearsed” are dubious.)
We’ll return to this first fundraiser in a moment, but let’s now jump ahead to the second fundraiser of the day, just an hour later at the new SF Jazz Center in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.
This was a traditional fundraiser — no policy speeches, no human props, no press allowed. Just adoring devotees paying money to bask in his presence for a few minutes.
But here too, the same series of events unfolded exactly as they had at the first fundraiser: someone in the audience began heckling Obama to use “executive orders” to push the progressive agenda through — and once again Obama patiently explained to his most ardent fans that he just can’t do that, as much as they might want him to:
“Somebody keeps on yelling, ‘executive order,’” Obama said. “I’m going to actually pause on this issue because a lot of people have been saying this lately on every problem, which is just, ‘Sign an executive order and we can pretty much do anything and basically nullify Congress.’” When people started applauding, Obama said, “Wait, wait, wait. Before everybody starts clapping, that’s not how it works. We’ve got this Constitution, we’ve got this whole thing about separation of powers. So there is no short-cut to politics, and there’s no short-cut to democracy. We have to win on the merits of the argument with the American people, as laborious as it seems sometimes.”
Critics online immediately pounced on Obama’s claims of political impotence, pointing out that he has indeed repeatedly used executive orders to bypass the will of Congress, something he now says is unconstitutional.
Outside was a slightly larger cluster of our old buddies, the anti-Keystone Pipeline activists who have tailed Obama at every public event for the last two years.
But here too the protesters, who were in essential agreement with Obama on every issue, had one demand: That Obama “alone” set national energy policy, bypassing Congress, the democratic process, and the will of the people. Just like the immigration activists at the first fundraiser, and just like the hecklers at both events, these supportesters were frustrated that Obama hasn’t yet fully enacted all of his promised radical agenda via standard constitutional methods, so their proposed solution is for him to start ruling by decree — or “executive order” as it’s called, to make it sound more palatable.
But here’s the thing: as I noted during an earlier Obama visit to San Francisco, the anti-Keystone “protesters” are not opposed to his agenda — they are in fact part of his agenda, bit players in the White House’s endless political theater, giving him cover to make unpopular decisions, citing public opinion (as evidenced by these ginned-up “protests”) to justify his one-sided actions:
This explains how people who voted for Obama can be out in the street seemingly to protest “against” him. Turns out this whole protest was nothing more play-acting for the cameras, a group of faux protesters colluding with Obama to create a Potemkin “movement” which he can then cite as justification for making an unpopular decision he already wanted to make anyway. “I had no choice — there’s a mass movement against this pipeline! I must bow to the will of the people.”
I find it very disturbing that actual grassroots protesters would be willing to dispense with the U.S. Constitution and welcome a dictatorship simply in order to get their way on this or that specific political issue. (It might seem like a good idea at first, but that way lies tyranny.) Yet I find it even more disturbing that the Obama administration could be astroturfing (as in the case of the heckler) or at a minimum encouraging and facilitating (as with the anti-Keystone activists) the very “protesters” who call on him to assume totalitarian powers.
These socialized medicine advocates outside the second event don’t seem very well-funded, and so might be true grassroots protesters, but I’m quite sure that they too would be overjoyed if Obama simply made H.R. 676 become law by presidential fiat, even if so doing was unconstitutional and meant the end of representative democracy.
There are two ways to interpret these bizarre theatrical skits involving Obama and his supporters.
Innocent Theory #1 is that Obama is essentially announcing to his base via these symbolic heckling exchanges that he no longer has the political will to issue as many power-grabbing executive orders as he’s done up til now, and that The Revolution has been put back on hold. “Ram through the progressive wish list with brazen executive orders? Why, I couldn’t do that (any more, at least) — it’d be unconstitutional!” Theory #1, if true, would certainly be in response to plummeting poll numbers and the sobering reality that the Republicans are now almost certain to maintain control of the House of Representatives in 2014, meaning Obama is conceding that he has been effectively stymied, and is thus warning his supporters not to get their hopes up.
Sinister Theory #2 is that Obama is staging these repeated calls for him to assume dictatorial powers as a way to later justify his actions when he amps up and redoubles his unconstitutional executive orders. “I wanted to be a passive and humble president, I really did — but the public demanded that I seize power, so I had to obey the people!” Theory #2, if true, would be based on the fact that Obama is a lame duck president and thus immune from any need to remain “electable”: He could basically do whatever he wanted for the next three years, however extreme, and “get away with it” since he never has to run for office again and Congress obviously will never impeach him at this stage of the game.
To conservatives prone to fearing the worst from Obama I ask: Do you think Theory #1 is correct, or Theory #2?
To progressives calling on Obama to rule via executive order I ask: What’s more important — preserving our system of government, or winning political victories at any cost?
That’s the real dividing line in American politics today.
OK, so much for politics. Let’s go back to the beginning of the day and see what actually happened out on the streets as Obama blitzed from stop to stop through San Francisco like an Olympic sprinter.
The president’s whirlwind speed-dating of San Francisco was even more fast and furious than usual, with three fundraisers inside two hours and 25 minutes:
Obama Schedule || Monday, November 25, 2013
10:30 am || Arrives San Francisco
11:35 am || Delivers remarks on immigration reform; Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center
1:10 pm || Delivers remarks at a DNC fundraiser; San Francisco Jazz Center
2:00 pm || Delivers remarks at a DNC fundraiser; private residence; San Francisco
3:30 pm || Departs San Francisco
(…and on to two more fundraisers in Los Angeles that evening.)
I did my best to keep one step ahead of him the whole day.
Fundraiser #1: The Betty Ong Recreation Center
The immigration activists we saw earlier had gathered at Mason and Washington, which was the corner closest to the fundraiser, but from their vantage point it was impossible to see the precise spot where Obama was going to enter the building. Consequently, the handful of tourists who stumbled onto the scene all gathered further down Mason street, from where it was at least possible to see the “Presidential Tent” (as I call it — not sure of the structure’s official name), the white portable canopy which hides Obama as he enters any building.
I tried to film Obama’s limousine as it entered the tent, but at that exact moment the police officers assigned to us starting yelling at everyone to get back on the sidewalk, and my camera was jostled:
Just when everybody started getting grumpy and bored, a convoy of roaring motorcycle cops zoomed up, the unmistakable signifier of a presidential motorcade’s imminent arrival.
Turns out I had chosen the wrong side — the dozen or so rubberneckers uphill from the tent got to see all the action, while we downhillers watched in awe as a veritable battalion of security forces large enough to conquer a decent-sized nation filled the street for several blocks.
There were a great deal of mysterious shenanigans as frantic Secret Service agents climbed in and out of armored vehicles, while beat cops scanned the skyline for interlopers.
Finally a clean perimeter was established, and it was only at this point (I’m quite sure) that Obama was permitted to exit the vehicle, which by now was safely and invisibly ensconced inside the Presidential Tent.
Shortly thereafter a tent flap was briefly opened and I was able to snap this long-distance photo of the inner sanctum: fire extinguishers, but no president.
I then returned to the protest corner, and as I approached I noticed a new sign right next to Obama’s fundraiser that must have been posted by the same programmers that made healthcare.gov.
I rarely report on spoken words or conversations which I can’t document with an accompanying video, but in this case I’ll make an exception. As I was standing next to this guy, I overheard him say the following sentence: “I spent a year following Romney around, writing libelous articles about him and Photoshopping pictures to make him look like an idiot.” You ever wonder what hardcore political “operatives” look like? Behold.
On the roof of the Betty Ong Recreation Center, Secret Service snipers scanned the surrounding rooftops for any suspicious characters. Keep this picture in mind as we move on to the other two events.
Fundraiser #2: The San Francisco Jazz Center
I then hustled at top speed down to Hayes Valley, to keep ahead of the official motorcade which was sure to follow soon. I already knew from previous intelligence gathering that this second event was to be the main focal point for the day’s protests. Even so, I was seriously underwhelmed.
Maybe a hundred (to be generous) anti-Keystone Pipeline activists from Credo.com gathered across from the new San Francisco Jazz Center and chanted their usual conspiracy theories about fracking and “climate chaos.” And I will note that making a photogenic pipeline to protest the creation of said pipeline is not the right way to go about it. Since protests are based on magical thinking, when you create a visualization of the thing you hate, you’re unintentionally bringing it into existence.
But it’s the freelance protesters who are always the most entertaining.
Great artwork; incomprehensible message. One out of two ain’t bad.
Obama’s #1 fan in the whole wide world was screaming obscenities at the other protesters for daring to criticize his god.
Wait — “the 99%”? Occupy? Those people still exist??? Apparently there are still a few of them on the loose, if this guy is to be believed.
The Killer Pipeline will create Climate Chaos!!!!!!!
I’d only been there a few minutes when the motorcade arrived — on schedule, for once. If you watch carefully, you can see the presidential limousines pulling into the Jazz Center’s parking garage between 0:22 and 0:37 in the video. As you’ll hear, the protesters greeted Obama by chanting “Stop the pipeline!” over and over, until one guy breaks the monotony by reversing the chant with “Pipeline stop! Pipeline stop!”
Remember how over at the first event, the Secret Service ensured that no one had “the high ground” overlooking the venue, for security reasons? Well, for some reason, at this event they allowed a clutch of wild-eyed protesters to occupy the roof of a building towering many stories over the Jazz Center. Why these people were given a pass and deemed harmless, I could not say.
I had seen online that Code Pink and World Can’t Wait had also announced their intent to protest Obama at the Jazz Center, but they decided to stake out an entirely different corner, so as not to be overwhelmed by the Keystone Kops. Big mistake. Without a larger group to dazzle the eye, the truly pitiable tininess of the anti-drone protest was a sad spectacle. Not counting passersby, there were about nine or ten Code Pinkers and World Can’t Waiters, combined. Their own members couldn’t even be bothered to come out and protest against the president.
Pretty much the entire Code Pink contingent.
As usual, the wildcat protesters had the best signs.
Whatever your politics, you gotta admit: That is how to make an effective protest sign.
There was one — one — person protesting against NSA (and IRS, etc. etc.) surveillance. This should be the biggest issue of all, but for some reason it never caught hold as a protest topic. Perhaps because everyone concerned about it is too justifiably paranoid to show their faces at a public event.
I returned to the Keystone protest, but they were still chanting the same goddamn chant, ten minutes later. Get me out of here! I took my own advice and left.
As I did so I encountered a group of guys eating lunch on the corner, discussing how the White House had to drop the price of the fundraiser tickets because they weren’t selling. I managed to capture a few snippets of their bronversation.
On my way to the next event, I passed an art store on trendy Hayes Street that had marked Obama’s arrival with a window display of a 2008 poster commemorating his election. Kind of telling that they had to retreat into his pre-failure fantasy beginnings, back when he still had promise, and hadn’t become such a big disappointment. Sort of like a traumatized mother who still displays a school photo of her smiling 14-year-old cheerleader daughter — who is in reality now a 30-year-old meth-addicted stripper. Denial.
Fundraiser #3: The Home of Marc Benioff
The final stop on my (and Obama’s) whistlestop tour was the Pacific Heights home of billionaire businessman (and major Democratic Party donor) Marc Benioff. I’ve covered several previous visits by Obama to this exact address over the last two or three years, and in every case there were hundreds of media/rubberneckers/protesters/supporters/attendees clustered around the barricades. Per my experience, I was expecting a crowd — perhaps the biggest crowd of the day.
Instead, when I arrived at Presidio and Pacific, this is the scene that greeted me:
One media member (a bored cameraman with nothing to film), and one local resident out walking her dog and curious why the street was blocked off. Grand total: two. And this was about half an hour before the event was set to begin, so the area should have been at its most crowded.
Thinking I must have gone to the wrong corner, I asked where the “other entrance” was, and the cops pointed me to Walnut and Washington, which they said was the designated protest zone. But when I arrived, as you can see, the only people to greet me were some parking valets and traffic cops.
I surveyed the entire perimeter of the cordoned-off security zone, and finally met two more rubberneckers (also passersby frustrated that their intended walking route had been blocked) at Jackson and Presidio.
So, all told, there were five (including me) people outside Obama’s biggest event of the day — and three of them were there by accident.
And then once again, here came Obama in the same motorcade. This time, however, there was no one else around, so I got a better video of the passing vehicles:
Actually, that’s not true. Remember at the first event how the Secret Service forbade any random strangers from overlooking the president’s location from a higher vantage point? Well, once again they allowed unknown people — in this case three construction workers repairing a neighbor’s house — to look down on Marc Benioff’s residence. Why?
I didn’t glimpse Obama himself, but I did clearly see the “shadow president” Valerie Jarrett in the back of the second “Presidential Limousine” (there are always at least one, and sometimes as many as three, “official”-seeming dummy limousines in any presidential motorcade). Obama must therefore have been in that same limousine with her; a figure can be seen dimly in the seat next to her, which must have been him. She’s visible at 0:32 in the video. (I later confirmed it was her after seeing news reports showing her deplaning from Air Force One earlier in the day with the same hairdo and same collar.)
If you aren’t able to freeze the video at the exact moment, here are a couple freeze-frames of the shadow president and the shadowy president next to her.
The presidents then turned the corner into the billionaire’s home, and were gone.
Adding up all the protesters/supporters/tourists/rubberneckers/media at all locations at all three events, I calculated (40 immigration activists and media + 20 downhill gawkers + 12 uphill gawkers + 100 Keystone protesters + 15 drone protesters + 4 dudes discussing ticket prices + 2 people on Pacific + 2 people at Jackson + 3 construction workers + me) that exactly 199 people greeted Obama in San Francisco (not counting the paid attendees at the fundraisers, of course). Which means that aside from the hardcore Democratic Party donors and progressive activists, Obama’s visit to San Francisco went almost completely unnoticed.