The motorcade left the Intercontinental San Francisco hotel at 6:23, rolling along Howard Street with sparse but noticeable onlookers before turning north; many more crowds at Market Street and through City Center, then back to sparse crowds of enthusiastic wavers the rest of the route. The motorcade arrived about 11 minutes later at the home of salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff near Walnut and Pacific in Presidio Heights.
About 60 people paid $35,800 each to attend the dinner: $30,800 to the DNC, and then $2500 each to Obama’s primary and general re-election campaigns.
The press corps was ushered into a large tent set up in the courtyard in the middle of Benioff’s block-wide residence, to find Stevie Wonder entertaining the crowd; his final song was a new one composed for the occasion, entitled “Ten Billion Hearts,” about joining together to heal the world.
The President was seated at Benioff’s table; Wonder returned to sit at the President’s side as Benioff introduced POTUS, saying that in a time of many crises, “we have the right person to lead us here.” Recording artist Will.I.am was seated at the same table.
POTUS took the mike at 7:30 p.m., quipping “I know all of you wish Stevie would keep on playing” and explaining that “Talking Book” was the first album he’d ever bought with his own money, at age 10. With headphones on, “I would sit in my room and pretend I was Stevie Wonder,” to the chagrin of his grandparents who had to listen to his singing.
“I’ve got a lot of friends in this room,” Obama said. “Some of you are involved in startups. Well, I was a startup not so very long ago … So many of you took a chance on me, and it was not at all likely I was going to win.”
2008’s campaign was about competing visions of America, ideas of who we are as a people, and despite the unexpectedly steep economic crisis that had set in by the time he was sworn into office, his Administration succeeded in making the largest ever investments in education, clean energy, infrastructure and research while reforming health care, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and appointing two women to the Supreme Court.
“For all the good work we’ve done, we’re not finished, we have more work to do” and “fundamental choices” to make, he said. “The economy is still not as strong as it needs to be… There are still too many children out there who are in substandard schools” unable to envision prosperous futures working for the kinds of companies founded by tonight’s guests.
Gas is too expensive and Mideast instability underscores the need to move to clean energy despite the climate change deniers in Congress, he said. And the budget debate is “the most fundamental example of the choice we’ll be making” in coming years,” he said. The deficit and debt are real and must be addressed, but “I am a congenital optimist when it comes to this country and I do not accept a vision where America gets small,” he said, where it can’t have the best infrastructure, research, universities and care for the vulnerable and seniors.
“The easiest thing to do is for the rich and powerful to say, ‘we’ve got ours and we don’t care about the rest,’” but that’s not an option, he said – “we started something in 2008” and he wants another term in which to finish it.
He ended at 7:45 p.m. and the press corps was ushered out as he began taking questions from the guests.