October 24, 2014 by Thomas Hauber
A funny thing happened on my way home from Europe last week. Our descent into San Francisco was interrupted by an unexpected and unwelcome holding pattern. It’s unexpected at one o’clock in the afternoon on a warm cloudless by the Bay and unwelcome after a twelve-hour flight in the last row of coach. I’m tired and I have a connecting flight to catch. A cockpit PA explains that the airport is temporarily closed due to VIP air traffic, most likely, said the voice, Vice President Joe Biden. When Presidential aircraft are in the area special FAA procedures go into effect providing traffic priority both en route and for 15 minutes before and after an arrival or departure. Mercifully the in-flight delay lasted no more than ten minutes and probably didn’t cause anybody to miss a flight. After all, what’s a few minute delay for our Second-in-Command to conduct one of the most important affairs of State—raising campaign money.
That day the Vice President attended a fundraiser held at a private residence in the posh Sea Cliff district of the city where, according to trulia.com, the average price of homes is between two and five million, that computes exactly to one million per advertised bathroom, a current San Francisco yardstick. Tickets went for $500 to $10,000 apiece to benefit Democratic House and Senate candidates. Few even knew of Biden’s itinerary but for a few sign wavers protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline and those on the dinner list whose names and faces Joe wont forget as easily.
Let’s face it, first order of business for all politicians is to get re-elected and campaign donations make that happen. To that end the citizenry is constantly being guilted, shaken-down and otherwise brow-beaten for money. For what? Shameless self-promotion tours, inane TV and radio ads, photo ops, stump speeches, yard signs and even more fund-raisers. I’ve made it a point not to give to political campaigns because of the TV ads alone. Nevertheless, I pay my taxes and righteously feel I pay for as much of these campaign boondoggles as any $10,000 a plate dinner invitee.
Joe can use Air Force Two any time he wants, for official business that is, but federal election laws require the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or individual candidates to pay for campaign junkets albeit at a fraction of the actual costs — the paltry equivalent of a commercial airline ticket. Piggybacking official events onto fundraising trips is common; cutting the costs the DNC must reimburse taxpayers. Mixed trips further blur the issue to the point of absurdity, but both political parties do it. The Vice President wasn’t through, the next day he attended a campaign rally in Portland for first-term U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley then on to Seattle for Senator Maria Cantwell.
Merkley vapidly told the Convention Center crowd Oregon needed more high-paying jobs, while Joe said the U.S. middle class wasn’t sharing in the country’s economic gains and we needed to raise the minimum wage – red meat for an ailing Oregon economy. Joe then turned on his “regular guy” routine and both headed for a neighborhood ice cream parlor. In a scene right out of TV “Portlandia,” from behind aviator sunglasses Joe chomped on his waffle cone and offered to pay for both he and Merkley’s double-scoopers with two crisp 10-dollar bills, we know what’s in his wallet.
People like Joe Biden and Jeff would like to be known as that kind of guy, a guy you’d like to have an ice-cream cone with. No need to waffle here. Merkley is in no danger of losing his second senatorial campaign; as Oregon mail-in ballots go out he leads in all polls by 12 – 15 points. Merkley didn’t get a campaign dime from me nor did any other candidate. He had three million in his war chest the day Republican challenger Monica Wehby announced her candidacy, enough to bury her in ten-dollar bills three times over. Monica couldn’t keep up despite TV ads paid for by the Koch brothers, who later pulled their support when Monica’s Dr. Mom campaign didn’t catch on. Records show Jeff has raised $6.5 million since the beginning of 2013 and over 9 million since he was elected in 2008. Fundraising is a full-time job.
Merkley was swept in with Obama in 2008, narrowly defeating Republican Gordon Smith. Oregon has been solid Blue ever since. Democrats own the Governorship and a majority of both State legislative Houses. In addition, both US Senators are Democrats as are four out of five U.S. Representatives. Oregonians endure (some they even permit) a variety of quirky characterizations and caricatures from pot-smoking meth-heads and tree-huggers to hippie-hipster food freaks and insufferable bike Nazis. Oregonians don’t seem to care, they like it here and make no bones about rearranging life-style models to fit them. “Keep Portland Weird” is an official motto.
In many ways Oregon is evolving as a “new normal,” down-sized and somewhat de-constructed granola version of the American Dream and Merkley seems a good fit. He’s a Portland homeboy and the son of a millwright but he’s also a Princeton and Stanford man (where some say he learned not to comb his hair) and smart enough to give the state’s liberals exactly what they want. Monica Wehby branded Merkley a “95 to 98% rubber-stamper” for Administration liberal policies, not a bad thing in this part of the state. In return he gets all the votes he needs from the friendly counties of urban Portlandia. The rest of the state is pretty much on its own.
I am concerned about the rest of the State. I live there. Its depressed economy, 8-10% unemployment (probably twice that under-employed), closed storefronts, depressed real estate prices and low wages bother the boomer in me. Challenger Wehby’s latest campaign ad claims, “… over the last six years with Jeff Merkley, more Oregonians were put onto food stamps than found a job.” This should serve as a warning. I explain these things to the Senator. This gets me a canned position paper detailing how America can get its high-paying jobs back by building more highways and bridges and burning biomass instead of oil. Biomass? His latest message boasts Oregon leads the way in renewable energy generation while creating hundreds of new jobs from clean energy.
This is the kind of Green whitewash you hand out trying to camouflage a lousy economy. Turns out all that renewable energy comes from hydroelectric dams that were here long before Jeff. Those hundreds of jobs are a few guys in Klamath Falls drilling a geothermal well. Hot steam is what you get when the environment and health and human services dominate a state’s budget. The trade off is lack of economic development, poor job creation, low wages and little opportunity. It is the face of a newer and younger progressivism and the State is OK with it, at least for now. So far no Republican has been able to successfully wage a “bad economy” campaign, a sign Oregonians are getting used to being paid $10 bucks an hour. Whether the current economic situation will settle in as a new paradigm or become a future liability to Democrats is unknown.