There were two sides to the story of President Obama’s appearance at a San Francisco fundraiser Thursday night. One happened inside the Masonic Center on Nob Hill. The other took place immediately outside.
A crowd of 2,500 people paid $100 to $7000 to hear the President speak for about 30 minutes. His speech was very similar to the State of the Union address delivered last month, in which he spoke about equal opportunities, education, innovation, job creation, infrastructure, and technology. He did not attack Republican ideas very strongly, though he did say that the politics of complete deregulation and an absolutely free market had failed before and would not work in the future.
The audience provided several standing ovations and shouts of, “I love you, Obama!” Two women leaving the event summed it up for the fans, saying, “That was nice!”
But many people showed up and stayed outside, choosing not to fund the campaign cause. This group was not so friendly. The diverse collection of demonstrators included Tea Party activists, marijuana supporters, environmentalists, Catholics, and members of the Occupy movement. The odd bedfellows stood side by side across the entrance, each pointing attention to his and her own issue of importance.
A few of the protesters joined the paid crowd and expressed their outrage to the President in person. When the Commander in Chief noted that US soldiers are not in Iraq anymore, one young woman ran toward him shouting about the war in Afghanistan. Another woman screamed protests against oil drilling in the Arctic. Both were removed by security guards. President Obama reacted to the disruptions by saying San Franciscans were never afraid to share their ideas out loud.
After the speech, President Obama shook hands and posed for pictures with some of the people who had paid the highest prices for their tickets. The Masonic Hall appearance was the final, the largest, and the most accessible among four fundraisers the President held in San Francisco on Thursday.
After the enthusiastic supporters dispersed, I thought about some words shared by one of his campaign organizers, who said, “California is in the bag for the President. And it's also a bit of an ATM for him.”