President Obama was in Rhode Island yesterday for all of four hours, but it was one of the most intensely dysfunctional four hours any politician could create.
He spoke briefly at a 40-person factory (from notes!) which had rehired people after receiving stimulus money. He then arrived late for a reception primarily for Providence Mayor David Cicilline’s run for Patrick Kennedy’s House seat. This reception cost attendees $500 to merely be in the same huge room at the Convention Center.
His motorcade (do you really need a dozen motorcycles?!) then went to the affluent East Side of Providence where wealthy developer Buff Chace and his wife were hosting a highly publicized dinner party for $7,5000 a person to dine with the President. That’s right: $15,000 per couple. Streets were blocked off by department of public works dump trucks, and even nearby pumpkins were inspected for safety (I am NOT making this up—the Providence media reported every shrug and moan with mind-numbing detail).
The owners and chiefs from the famed Providence restaurant, Al Forno, were imported for the presidential palate. (Al Forno is famous for original food and hating customers—no reservations, and please eat and leave.) One of the restaurant’s founders, Johanne Kileen, noted that this was the second most exciting day in her life, after her wedding day. One supposes that the restaurant business, travel, and a long-term marriage don’t carry many thrills in her life. Perhaps she should get out more.
I know Buff Chace, and he is an admirable man. He has used his family fortune to try to develop downtown Providence, arguing articulately that retail, commercial, residential, and recreational facets must be concurrently created. He’s had mixed success, but not for lack of trying. He was the long-time board chair of Trinity Repertory Company while I served on the board, and his family is generous and community-minded. I haven’t always agreed with him, but I respect him.
And it was at this event that the President spent 20 minutes in small talk, then headed back to Air Force One to head to DC, kiss his kids goodnight and walk the dog. The guests had spent $750 per minute, $12.50 a second, for the President to make the barest plausible visit and depart, outstanding chiefs notwithstanding, arrangements of no import, loss of face for the hosts inconsequential. At least the food didn’t get cold, even if the conversation did.
In the bargain, besides tying up traffic royally because apparently it’s dangerous to have anyone use the roads anywhere while the President is being chauffeured around, he managed to alienate the supporters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio, whom Obama pointedly refused to endorse, perhaps to repay Mr. Caprio’s independent (once Republican) rival, Lincoln Chafee, for his support last election, perhaps to thumb his nose at someone who supported Hillary Clinton (and there is no way the Clintons would have acted this way on a visit, but that’s another story).
Mr. Caprio promptly told the news media that the President could “shove it” as far as his endorsement was concerned, and that caused national news, apparently because others don’t realize that’s like saying, “no worries” here in Rhode Island. In this state, that phrase doesn’t even budge the rudeness meter.
So, in just four hours we witnessed a real slash and burn demonstration. The trouble is, it was leveled at what I thought were his own people. So, I’m wondering, just which people ARE his people? How many of them will be around to vote next week?
© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.