The email warnings are flying in West Los Angeles about how the president's motorcade will once again gridlock afternoon rush hour. The cause: two mistimed, ill-placed Hollywood fundraisers on opposite sides of the traffic jam known as West LA. There's probably no major city as pro-Obama as Los Angeles, or state so solidly in his camp as California.
Still there's nothing to get you to examine your feelings about your president as sitting for hours to drive a few miles in the mass-transit-free zone of West LA, because the president chose not to take a helicopter.
Manhattan may be an island but it's got trains and subways. There's no subway, light rail or train to get you where you need to go in West LA. There's only your car to get your kids from school, get home from work, or get to your evening places and people.
Isn't there a better Obama image for Earth Day on Friday than the president grid-locking car land just to pick up some campaign cash from a few Hollywood moguls at two separate locations?
With LA gas prices hovering around $4.20 per gallon, Potus is going to cost average people a lot more at the pump than he will raise. Couldn't Hollywood just hold one meeting, not two, in honor of Earth Day?
How about at an airport hotel, so no one has to drive the president very far? Hollywood should have better sense, but the image makers seem oblivious to their own. We want you to be safe Mr. President, but won't a helicopter do? What better way to see the earth for Earth Day?
The West LA spectacle is a reminder that Obama needs to get in touch with real people in real ways, particularly his natural base, if he wants to keep his job in 2012. No amount of money from Hollywood or anywhere else can overcome the impression that the president is out of touch with his people.
What progressives like me tend to think about when sitting in Westside traffic is why the president won't get tough and mean on the industries that are the bane of our existence and his, like Big Oil. A movie that just hit the DVD shelf, Gas Hole, brilliantly lays out the case for how oil companies have put us over a barrel by shorting the gasoline supply, buying up patents on fuel efficient technology and lying to the public at every turn.
The president might have chosen to stop at a public screening of Gas Hole for Earth Day rather than hole up in a movie studio and Brentwood bar privately with moviemaker donors. Everyone in those rooms know what the public knows: oil companies are killing the earth and our wallets. It's a confluence of tremendous public energy that the President has yet to make use of.
Congress may not be cooperating but it doesn't mean Obama cannot make his case that big oil companies are getting rich off our pain and it's got to stop. He recently took a swipe a oil speculators, which makes good policy, but Obama has yet to connect with the public over their pain at the pump, and connect that pain to the Earth's pain.
Potus may know the end game is the gridlock in Washington DC on energy policy. But he can change the balance of power in that game, and remind his base why we need him when the Koch Brothers and Exxon are the ones fundraising for the GOP, if he starts to pump his own gasoline and worry about how much we all pay.
The oil companies are worse than Enron, as Gas Hole proves. They are killing the economy, earth and our wallets by artificially shorting the market to drive up gasoline prices. It's time the president started treating these predators the way they should be treated by a populist president.
The bully pulpit of the White House is no small problem for a hated corporation, and the president needs to use it to better effect. The chief executive has the tools of investigation, as well as enforcement, and he can crystallize exactly why we pay too much per gallon and what needs to be done about. How about a task force at least?
There's a simple solution: regulation of the gasoline supply. Oil companies need to be watched more closely by the government and told how to make supplies adequate to meet demand. Clean energy will need the same controls if it is to be cheap too.
Obama needs a gas prices platform to crystallize that he stands for cleaner energy and cheaper energy. Oil isn't cheap, as any Californian paying $4.20 per gallon can tell you. The alternatives are a lot cheaper, as Gas Hole proves. Obama needs to take a moment on his Los Angeles trip to watch the gridlock around him, read the prices at the gas stations and consider how the anger at the oil companies that are feeding at our wallets and on the earth could help him help us all. _________________________________________________________