The President of the United States was hobnobbing with a roomful of super-rich show biz folks the other day, and he sounded rather glum. He spoke of a “disquiet around the country,” “an anxiety, and a sense of frustration,” a widely held belief that “the challenges out there remain daunting and we have a Washington that’s not working,” and his fear it will cause Americans to become disengaged from the political process to an extent that “we got this downward spiral of even more cynicism and more dysfunction.” All in all, it seemed an incongruously downbeat message for such an upscale occasion.
We did not attend the fundraiser at Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn’s palatial Bel-Air home, but we read all about in Variety, which is a usually reliable source for all matters entertainment. The event was a bit pricey for our budget, with a donation of $10,000 buying only dinner and a photo-op, and $34,000 needed to get into the VIP reception and $68,000 the cost of something called a “VIP clutch,” so we stayed home and watched Netflix instead, but it sounds like we missed a swank affair. Pop diva Barbra Streisand and big-time movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg were reportedly in attendance, and presumably involved in the “VIP clutch,” which for that kind of money should have involved a happy ending, and we can only guess that everyone was good-looking and well-dressed and wealthy enough to pony up serious cash for the president’s ongoing crusade against income inequality. We like to imagine there’s a certain amount of gaiety at these glamorous Hollywood shindigs, with comely young starlets swinging from the chandeliers and handsome young gigolos snorting copious amounts of cocaine off the ample breasts of some sultry sex symbol or another, so it strikes us as slightly rude that the president would bring everyone down with a rambling rehash of Jimmy Carter’s infamous “Malaise Speech.”
Show people are funny, though, so perhaps they got their money’s worth from the frisson of pseudo-seriousness they felt listening to the President of the United States spout such self-pitying drivel. The president was quite correct about the disquiet and the anxiety and the frustration and the sense that Washington isn’t working, and right to worry about the cynicism and dysfunction it causes, but the rest of it was as far removed from reality as Hollywood’s latest comic book epic. The nation’s unhappy mood derives from the record number of working-age Americans who have given up look for work in a perpetually sluggish economy, the record number of Americans living in poverty and on government assistance, the rising costs and diminished benefits of our health care system, the emboldened belligerence of America’s enemies across the globe, the increasing coarseness and meanness of our popular culture and political discourse, and a growing realization that after more than five years in office the President of the United States has something to do with it.
According to the President of the United States, however, it’s all those other guys’ fault. If not for their unaccountable obstruction he could spent enough money to solve all the economic problems, people would be happily giving up the health care plans they liked and paying more for the plans they are forced to accept, America’s enemies would be soothed into submission, Hollywood would be rewarded for its brave transgressive art with a continuation of its myriad tax breaks, and no one would be the least bit cynical about any of these claims. That the opposition has at least been successful enough in thwarting the president’s ambitions to put in such a dour mood actually bolsters our faith in the constitutional system, but the president seems intent on sowing cynicism about that. It’s cynicism about him that he finds alarming, and no matter what lies he tells about Benghazi or Obamacare or any of the “phony scandals” that have highly-placed allies pleading the Fifth Amendment it is those other guys’ fault if anyone doubts him.
Those Hollywood swells ate it up like a catered $10,000-a-plate meal, so far as we can tell, and probably offered some well-rehearsed sympathy. The president assured his star-struck audience that he and his party had the vast majority of Americans on their side on every issue that would matter in the upcoming mid-term elections, and Variety does not mention any guffaws. At least they know that their donations are unlikely to arouse the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, which has been auditing donors to conservative causes at a rate ten times greater than the national average, and they can assure themselves that they’re not cynics.
The same speech would get a markedly different reaction here in our proudly unglamorous home of Wichita, even at the Machinists’ Hall, where the guys make those corporate jets that the president likes to rail against when he flies off to a golf course on Air Force One, and we suspect the coal miners in West Virginia and the oil boomers in North Dakota and the unemployed almost everywhere would be just as cynical. The president’s problem is that such cynicism won’t cause them to be disengaged, but rather to show up at the polls in a surly mood come November.
— Bud Norman