Jacob Heilbrunn

Obama's Environmental Hypocrisy

President Obama has been stumping across the country to tout his clean-energy policies. His latest stop came yesterday in Los Angeles at a fundraiser where he collected $1 million--and where he contributed to global warming by arriving during rush hour and snarling traffic for hours.

Angelenos were not happy. Freeways were jammed. Residents weren't allowed to cross streets to walk their dogs. AOL says, "Local media reported incensed residents arguing with police, including one in the heavily Democratic neighborhood who yelled at officers that he wished he had voted for John McCain, Obama's 2008 Republican presidential rival."

Good for the yeller. McCain probably doesn't have any friends in Tinseltown, and there's no way Barbara Streisand would show up at a bash for him. The problem isn't simply that Obama was arriving at rush hour. It's that his grand entrance into Los Angeles further demonstrated that the American presidency has increasingly come to resemble a sultanate rather than a democratic institution. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that the Secret Service has become "insufferable." David Plotz, writing in Slate, got it exactly right:

The expansion of the Secret Service has normalized a paramilitary presidency. No one blinks at: 40-car motorcades that shut down interstates and gridlock traffic, the 200-plus-strong Secret Service delegation that accompanies the press. During public events, it is perfectly acceptable for Secret Service agents to approach crowd members and yank their hands out of their pockets to confirm they are not hiding weapons. It is unquestioned that the president should be chauffeured in a car that costs $1.5 million. It has become a deep inconvenience for average citizens to see their president, and a deep inconvenience for the president to see average citizens. There is something unseemly about this excessive security, and something undemocratic.

It's thus another reason Americans feel detached from their leaders and from Washington, DC. But the Los Angeles Times reports that Obama was feeling mellow: "The president strode to the microphone in the cool of the setting sun, amid a garden of lemon trees, a manicured lawn and a long aquamarine pool. `What a spectacular evening,' Obama said. `Let's just hang out.'"
Thanks, Mr. President. That's pretty much what everyone else was forced to do as Obama partied and they, the hoi polloi, stewed on the freeways.