With all the partisan bickering
going on in Washington, it seems only natural that President Barack Obama -- like so many other presidents before him -- would yearn to get beyond the Beltway and hear the concerns of ordinary Americans. On Monday, the commander in chief did just that -- sort of.
The president chose as his getaway the Fairfax, Va., home of John Nicholas and Nicole Armstrong, who live with their two children in leafy enclave of Mantua. The residence is beyond the Beltway, but only just so -- about 14 miles from the White House. "You're in a bubble when you're president," Obama said upon arrival. "These kinds of formats are terrific for me."
In 2008, the median family income
in Fairfax was $126,910, while in 2010, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent -- putting the Washington suburb far ahead of the rest of the country in both income
. But perhaps that's begrudging the president too much -- after all, sometimes a schedule
has to be kept, and long distance travel just isn't in the cards. And, to be fair, President Obama spent much of the summer making the rounds to places where Americans are really feeling the heat
Yet if the president's goal was to have an honest conversation with the American electorate and make the case for his administration's efforts to rescue the U.S. economy, away from the opinion polling and freed from the (cough) distorted lens of the media, then this remained a curious choice. The crowd gathered -- small business owners, educators, tech specialists, a massage therapist and two state officials (among others) -- seemed already, distinctly, on his side.
Nary a critical question was asked, save for one woman who worked in the Fairfax County public school system and began her remarks by telling Obama: "I love everything you're doing. I love your vision. I'm so glad you got into office." Then she said: "I haven't had a raise in two years and I may not even have a job next year, because I hear it's going to get worse before it gets better. Do you agree with that?" She continued, "I know jobs are starting to come back, but how long do you think this is going to take?" Then she quickly added, referring to a post-recovery America, "It sounds wonderful."
Responding to her question, the president highlighted steps made by Democrats and his administration to save teacher jobs
, reserving criticism for Republican resistance to the efforts. Other questions involved stem cell research; small business lending; historic preservation; union concerns, including the Employee Free Choice Act
; partisan politics; and the climate of economic fear plaguing the country.
To all of them, the president had rather lengthy responses, mostly detailing efforts the White House had made to address those very same concerns -- the executive order
supporting stem cell research, the small business bill
Obama has been pushing for months, support for organized labor via the creation of skilled jobs
in new technology, and a belief that Democrats and Republicans could come together on energy, immigration and education policy -- despite differences the two parties have on issues like the Bush tax cuts. He even managed to turn the historic preservation question into an opportunity to highlight the federal government's campaign to retrofit homes and make them more energy efficient. The audience seemed pleased.
Ah well, if it wasn't an electric back-and-forth, at least it was honest? Maybe. After the event, Rep. Gerry Connolly, who had been sitting in the audience, answered questions from reporters about his stance on the Bush tax cuts -- namely, that he believed they should be extended for both middle class and wealthy Americans -- a position shared by House Minority Leader (and current White House boogieman
) Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). Maybe the congressman was just too polite to bring it up? By then, anyway, the motorcade had already rolled through the streets of Fairfax, the president waving cheerily at the event's attendees, on his way back to the bubble.
A few minutes after the last black SUV turned toward 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., a small group of protesters emerged from a shaded corner where they had been holding signs. "Save Our Children," read one sign. "Stop Wasting Money," said another. A small FreedomWorks sticker at the bottom of one placard clued onlookers in on their affiliation: Glenn Beck and the Tea Party movement. They were, perhaps, a remaining contingent from this weekend's rally
on the National Mall.
But if the president had missed them along the way, he was sure to have seen the hand-lettered signs posted anonymously throughout the neighborhood, tacked on trees and telephone poles -- ones proclaiming "NOBAMA," and asking, "Where's your birth certificate?"
In the end, it seemed, perhaps the White House strategy of keeping the commander in chief on friendly territory wasn't that misguided, after all.