Even in the job’s toughest moments, presidents never stop campaigning. As President Obama grapples with war abroad and political strife at home, he is also preparing to pivot to his re-election bid. Tuesday’s tour of New York City offered a glimpse at how he will juggle the burdens of his office with the challenges of keeping it.
The anchor of the trip was the dedication of a new U.S. mission to the United Nations, named for former Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown, a Democratic Party heavyweight whom Obama met just once. Obama’s encomium to Brown, delivered before an audience of diplomats and dignitaries in a gleaming Charles Gwathmey-designed building across the street from the U.N., offered the President an appropriate location to reiterate the flexible theory of foreign intervention he set forth in Monday’s Libya speech at Fort McNair.
The building dedication was the marquee event on the whirlwind day trip, which included interviews with three major TV networks and a visit to a high-school science fair, a favorite venue to highlight his call to “win the future.” But it was not necessarily the primary purpose.
After defending his foreign policy, Obama headed uptown to Harlem, where he headlined two DNC events. The first was a private dinner at a buzzy new soul-food restaurant, where about 50 wealthy donors shelled out $30,800 a pop to talk shop with the President over cornbread, lobster salad and short ribs prepared by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. The event was expected to raise $1.5 million for the DNC, some of which may be redirected right back to the President’s campaign coffers.
Obama’s next stop, at a museum two blocks away, was free of charge for a select coterie of “fundraisers, activists and door-knockers,” as DNC Chair Tim Kaine put it, but was peppered with plugs for future support. Addressing the diverse group, who sipped wine in a spare space decorated with modern art, Obama listed many of the problems he says he’s solved before asking for four more years to keep whacking at the rest. “Not all of that work is done,” Obama said. “But I’m not finished yet.”
The new campaign is about to get stated. As Marc Ambinder reports, Obama is expected to announce his re-election bid at an April 14 fundraiser in Chicago, which will serve as its headquarters. As would-be Republican challengers dither, Obama is getting the band back together, enlisting many of the same faces from 2008 and hatching plans to issue a video and text-message blast that will mark the formal beginning of the long slog ahead.
Standing on a stage before some 250 supporters, Obama invoked many of his familiar themes, urging them to “never forget that what binds us together is always stronger than what drives us apart.” After two years of bitter bickering, he can no longer credibly package himself as a post-partisan candidate. But that doesn’t mean he won’t try. “There’s a lot of talk about how divided America is, and how frustrated and angry,” he told the buoyant, slightly boozy crowd. “I don’t see that… what I see in the American people is just a core goodness and a core decency” obscured by the grime of partisan politics.
There may be no way to recapture the same sense of promise this time around, but the President is betting that hope and change still have some juice left. Ticking off the array of challenges ahead – a crumbling infrastructure, securing energy independence, getting the national debt under control – he asked his supporters for four more years to get them done. “Let’s go work,” he said. “Yes we can. Yes we can.”