President Obama is introduced by NBA basketball hall-of-famers Bill Russell,… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)
Reporting from Medina, Wash. — The self-styled warrior for the middle class on Sunday took his reelection campaign straight into the maw of the super-rich.
President Obama opened a three-day Western trip with a fundraising brunch at the 23,000-square-foot Seattle-area home of former Microsoft executive Jon Shirley, where guests paid $35,800 for the chance to see the president and toss him questions.
He stood in a vast, high-ceilinged room filled with sculpture and paintings, a space that could have doubled as a floor of a modern art museum. In the speech he delivered before the press was ushered out, he shelved the populist rhetoric and focused on the political paralysis in Washington. No mention of "millionaires and billionaires." No references to Warren Buffett’s favorable tax status.
Instead he asked for help in pressuring Congress to shed the partisan animosity.
"My hope when I came into office was because we were in crisis that the other side would respond by saying, 'Now's the time for all of us to pull together. There will be times for partisan argument later, but now's not the time.'"
"That's not the decision they made. So from the moment that I took office, what we've seen is a constant ideological pushback against any kind of sensible reforms that would make our economy work better and give people more opportunity."
Obama will appear at no fewer than seven fundraising events over the next two days. The trip puts him in something of a delicate spot. He is raising millions from some of the same economic elites he says are flourishing under an unfair tax code.
Just last week, in a visit to Cincinnati, he proclaimed himself a "warrior for the middle class," a populist turn that his advisors hope will rally the Democratic base.
It seems Obama may be tailoring his speeches to the audience's economic station. Later in the afternoon he went to another event in Seattle where anyone could get in for the price of a $100 ticket. Speaking to 1,750 people at the Paramount Theater, he reverted to populist form.
He resurrected the "warrior" line. He inveighed against efforts to "bust unions." And he bemoaned a system that doles out tax breaks to the richest Americans while telling "everyone else that you're on your own."
Much as he is aligning himself with the middle class this political season, Obama will never be mistaken for a shot-and-a-beer guy. He seemed awed by the Shirley home.
"What a spectacular setting," he said at the brunch. "I was saying to Mark [that was a slip; he meant to say, "Jon"] that I wish I had time to just roam around. Because this is as beautiful a collection as I've ever seen."