While covering President Barack Obama’s San Francisco fundraiser Saturday, I had the pleasure of chatting with Gardiner Harris, White House correspondent for the New York Times. Later, as he covered the president’s Los Angeles fundraisers, he filed some of the funniest pool reports I’ve ever read.
For the uninitiated, on any given day that the president travels, one member of the traveling White House press corps and one or two local reporters are designated as “pool” – which means those reporters, when covering events not open to the rest of the press, must file quick-and-dirty reports first to the White House for sharing with other outlets before they filing their own stories.
As someone who covers several presidential visits a year, I often feel like I know the basic stump speech by heart – so I have empathy for those reporters who must cover the president’s political events day after day, hearing the same basic speech over and over, yet still must consistently send out coverage. It can be a real grind, unless you have a good sense of humor.
So here are some excerpts from Gardiner’s dispatches today, an insight into life on the road covering the leader of the free world. My personal favorite is at 6:39 p.m.:
2:01 p.m.: “Marine One touched down at 1:23 in the riding pen of Will Rogers State Park, a place named for the man who once said everything is funny as long as it’s happening to someone else. We are en route to a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.”
2:05 p.m.: The pool is holding in the attic of a beautiful house in the Pacific Palisades while POTUS attends a Roundtable for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The committee has yet to inform us of the identity of our hosts, although we have just been told that [it’s] J.J. Abrams, director of the upcoming Star Wars movie. The attic has at least seven electronic keyboards, several acoustic and two electric guitars and what appears to be a high-end sound mixer. So the pool is jamming. Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post is presently crooning Barry Manilow’s, ‘Mandy.’”
3:05 p.m.: “Obama left the fundraiser at the home of J.J. Abrams, the Star Wars director, at 3:04 PST. The crudités were terrestrial; the view to the Pacific was not. Homes here on San Remo Drive have high hedges, steel fences, gated driveways and pixy dust. Abrams’ low-key Cape Cod-style home had, your pooler is afraid to admit, an understated elegance. Plus the rubber mask of the creature from ‘Alien’ attached to the face was creepily cool. A Secret Service agent had to ask Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post several times – the last time somewhat forcefully – to put down the mic and leave the premises. Your pooler is now comforting Jaffe, recovering from his glimpse of how the other 0.01 percent lives.”
3:32 p.m.: “The motorcade drove all of four minutes before arriving at the next event, reminiscent of Steve Martin’s car journeys in ‘LA Story.’”
3:42 p.m.: “Pool arrived at a home that backs up to a canyon, with glorious views of scrub hills and ocean. The half-acre yard has a large white tent shading some 200 white chairs from a blazing sun. There is not a cloud in the cerulean sky. This is a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in Pacific Palisades with about 200 supporters contributing up to $33,400 a person. Jamie Foxx will perform at the event. Mr. Foxx is on the grounds and posing for pictures with various guests at what appears to be an inner sanctum on the grounds.”
5:13 p.m.: “After about a 20-minute drive, motorcade arrived at 4:59 at the home of Michael Smith, a prominent interior designer who is married to the Spanish ambassador. The fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee has about 50 people who paid up to $33,400 a person to attend. Happiness research suggests that neither income nor large homes in beautiful locales with fabulous weather necessarily lead to happiness. Further, that experiences are often more valuable than possessions. Your Pooler is sure that no one at the fundraiser has ever laid down fully dressed in the king-sized bed in this guest room with two large photographers from major wire services and watched the Arkansas/Alabama game while POTUS spoke in the vast living room.”
5:57 p.m.: “In a large living room with 18-foot ceilings, windows that went almost floor-to-ceiling, a 10-foot floral display and several pieces of what appeared to be expensive art work, President Obama gave a stripped-down version of his stump speech prior to answering questions. Pool was ushered out before the questions. Mr. Obama’s light-hearted comments at the start of the speech had to do with his lack of a tie. He said that David Axelrod had instructed him during his first campaign to always wear a tie because ‘you don’t look old enough’ to be president. His gray hair now confirms that he is old enough not only to be president but to have been president, so he plans to wear fewer ties, he said. He then reviewed his administration’s successes in job creation, clean energy and other issues. ‘There’s almost no measure by which we’re not better off now than when I came into office,’ he said. But problems remain, most prominently the failure of wages and income to grow for ordinary Americans, he said. That has led to economic anxiety, he said. ‘And when people are anxious economically, the politics of fear oftentimes can override the politics of hope,’ he said. That anxiety can express itself in anti-immigration rhetoric and ‘in cheap jingoism and militarism and nationalism that’s not grounded in our national security interests. And it’s a dangerous path.’ He then complimented Democrats for making courageous votes and said he was not ‘intrinsically partisan,’ and he said he had sometimes been faulted by members of his own party for not being partisan enough. ‘But I will tell you at this moment in history, the choices are stark. And facts, evidence and values are on our side. And the other side has gone off the deep end. And what you’re witnessing in the House fight right now is that even deeply conservative folks are not considered ideologically pure enough and we would rather burn the House down than admit the possibility of democratic process that requires compromise.’ He said that voters must work hard. ‘If you let it pass, then you’ve got people in charge who don’t believe in climate change,’ he said. ‘So I feel as much urgency about this upcoming election as I’ve felt about any election, and I am not on the ballot.’ ‘I definitely need a Democratic successor because the alternatives we’ve got are not what I had in mind,’ he said.”
6:39 p.m. “Motorcade left the home of Michael Smith at 6:37 as the sun was setting and a warm amber glow settled over the exclusive Los Angeles enclave of Holmby Hills. The house POTUS left was valued at $12.5 million, was designed by Timothy Morgan Steele and is ‘not only a work of art but designed with the art connoisseur in mind,’ according to Zillow. The home is situated on a full acre plot. While such a home is certainly no guarantee of happiness, high incomes do tend to lead to greater expressions of satisfaction, research shows. Further, such obvious displays of wealth can lead to the development of envy in others, among the darkest of human emotions, according to some research. Envy occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other person lacked it, according to Wikipedia. Envy is a powerful predictor of unhappiness, research shows. Some cultures, such as that in the United States, discourage open expressions of envy. Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post had recovered somewhat in the motorcade over to Holmby Hills but, your pooler is sorry to report, experienced something of a relapse during the unique and remarkable experience of sitting next to a sizable doggie bed while shoeless photogs lay prone and fully dressed in a giant bed watching the Arkansas/Alabama game as great wealth almost bubbled around them. Your pool managed to recover Mr. Jaffe’s wallet and cell phone, and he is now lying peacefully in a pool van with a cold compress on his forehead.”
7:03 p.m.: “Marine One touched down at LAX at precisely 7 pm, as the dying embers of a Los Angeles sunset faded over the nearby Pacific Ocean. We are headed for AF1.”
7:11 p.m.: “Headed to Miramar Air Force Base, where I had early Saturday morning swim workouts in childhood. Oh, and ‘Top Gun’ was filmed, less importantly.”
8:40 p.m. “Air Force one arrived at Miramar Air Force Base around 7:50 pm. And the pool squeezed into two vans instead of three. Ten guys, some with heavy equipment, jostled into one of the vans in the desert air, instantly overwhelming the vehicle’s air conditioning. The motorcade sped through darkened suburban sprawl and desert scrub on Miramar Road to the 805 (local dialect demands use of an article prior to interstate numbers). We soon joined the 5, exited at Del Mar Heights Road, passed the Pumpkin Patch play area, and sliced into the heart of the exclusiveness of Rancho Santa Fe. Sun overexposure can lead to nausea, fever, headache and dizziness. But so can existential dread. These conditions can be difficult to distinguish in the Southland and on pool duty. Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post will need a differential diagnosis, but I suspect the labs will be equivocal. We arrived at the gated community at 8:25 pm alongside the sharpest looking crew of CHiPs I’ve ever seen. We have a lid.”