TIME fashion

From Eleanor to Michelle: The Inside Scoop on First Lady Fashion

Tim Gunn and other fashion experts weigh in on First Ladies from Dolley Madison to Michelle Obama

It’s hard to imagine a job in which the clothes you wear to work are more closely scrutinized than that of the First Lady of the United States. Not even the President is so meticulously judged. And in any event, choosing between a dark suit or a tan suit (gasp!) doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for error.

The First Lady’s fashion choices are — and always have been — imbued with political power and laden with controversy, as I learned the National Archives’ event “Style and Influence: First Ladies’ Fashions,” a raucous panel discussion—not an oxymoron, turns out—moderated by Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. Fashionistas present included Valerie Steele, museum curator at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Lisa Kathleen Graddy, curator at the Smithsonian’s First Ladies Collection and designer Tracy Reese.

Admirers have praised Michelle Obama’s elegance — Gunn called her “divine” — while her critics have lambasted her informality (remember Shortsgate?). But striking the delicate balance between the need of the First Lady to meet high fashion standards while appealing to America’s populist inclinations has always preoccupied the women who’ve held the office.

Dolley Madison (in the White House 1809 to 1817) was derided for being too flashy for American tastes, even though her most well-known dress, a red, high-waisted, no-corset, “empire style” gown, evokes the republican values of ancient Rome. Dolley’s famous red dress is rumored to have been made out of White House curtains she rescued from British arsonists during the War of 1812 — a legend that is, tragically, almost certainly just that.

By the latter half of the century, Dolley’s sleek gowns were old news and American men were all about that bass, no treble. That fuller look was reflected in the wardrobe of the Harriet Lane, the niece of lifelong bachelor President James Buchanan and the first person to be called “First Lady” by the press (they simply didn’t know what else to call her).

According to one writer in the 1880s, “No man would stay long with a woman whose skinny buttocks he could hold in the palm of one hand,” said FIT’s Valerie Steele. And as Tracy Reese noted, we may have come full circle on the big-bottomed style of the era. “Sounds like Nicki Minaj,” she said.

Through the end of the turn of the century, the Roaring Twenties and into the Depression, some First Ladies wore the fashions of their era better than others. Edith Wilson, wife to President Woodrow Wilson, liked to do her own alterations to her clothes with mixed success—Gunn guessed she’d be the first jettisoned from Project Runway. And the image of Eleanor Roosevelt as intrepid if somewhat unfashionable is not altogether true. The Smithsonian’s Lisa Graddy told of a dress that looks conservative on a mannequin but that Mrs. Roosevelt wore with the sleeves removed and unclasped, giving the gown a “nice, draped, low back.”

“She was a bit of a minx,” added Gunn.

The First Lady’s fashion decisions have always had political impact but never more so than in the era of mass visual media, beginning roughly with Jackie Kennedy’s gilded tenure. Jackie’s famously expensive, quasi-aristocratic taste in clothes was such that GOP politicos deliberately tailored the styles of the next Republican woman to inhabit the White House, Pat Nixon, to strike an everywoman note meant to appeal to the supposedly average Americans in President Nixon’s “silent majority.”

Then in the 1980’s, Valerie Steele from FIT notes that Nancy Reagan “almost single handedly, transformed red from the color of Communist revolution to the color of Republicans.” Not a bad scalp for the better half of Mr. “tear down that wall.”

Not all First Ladies are particularly interested in fashion. Hillary Clinton was surprised by the amount of attention her clothes attracted, Steele said. And Laura Bush was largely uninterested in the kind of high-concept fashion thinking that preoccupied someone like Nancy Reagan, who, we’re told, meticulously labeled every dress with the last occasion on which it was worn.

The fashion pendulum has swung back again with Michelle Obama, who, notwithstanding her taste for affordable middle-brow threads (she’s a J. Crew fan), seems to have a personal stake in the statements she makes with her formal wear. Tracy Reese designed the dress Obama wore to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, a dress that was delivered with sleeves attached, Reese said. Obama, who has a well-known fondness for going sleeveless, personally had the sleeves removed.

TIME politics

How To Fix the Secret Service

House Oversight Committee Hearing on Secret Service Errors
Julia Pierson, director of the U.S. Secret Service, is grilled by members of congress during a Hearing by the House Oversight Committee on the flaws and errors by the U.S. Secret Service in protecting the White House held at the Rayburn House Office Building on Tuesday, September 30 , 2014, in Washington, DC. The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Ronald Kessler is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

If a corporation is performing poorly, the CEO is replaced with an outsider who can shake up the company and change the culture—the same should apply here

If you are wondering how the Secret Service became such a tarnished agency, look back to 2003 when it became part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Forced to compete for funds with 21 other national security agencies in a department of 240,000 employees, the Secret Service, which previously was under the Treasury Department, became more political and compliant. Mark Sullivan, appointed director by President George W. Bush in 2006, proudly proclaimed that the Secret Service “makes do with less.”

Over time, corner cutting and laxness became more prevalent, while the agency became more arrogant. As revealed in my book The First Family Detail, it became commonplace for Secret Service management to order agents to let people into events without magnetometer or metal detection screening to curry favor with White House or campaign staffs impatient with long lines. Uniformed officers such as those who let Michaele and Tareq Salahi and a third intruder, Carlos Allen, into a state dinner at the White House in 2009 became convinced that Secret Service management would not back them if they turned away party crashers at the White House gate.

Agents who called attention to deficiencies or potential threats were punished, never to be promoted. Those who went along with such outrageous White House requests as turning off alarms and who perpetuated the myth that the Secret Service is invincible were promoted and given bonuses.

Reflecting that preoccupation with image, just after replacing Sullivan as director, Julia Pierson, his chief of staff for five years, sent an email to all agents reminding them to maintain a “professional appearance.” Tattoos should not be visible, and facial hair must be short and “neatly groomed,” she instructed. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover reflected the same obsession with outward appearance, helping to conceal the bureau’s many flaws.

The Secret Service’s annual budget is $1.5 billion — about the cost of one B-2 stealth bomber. Besides its protective duties, the agency investigates counterfeiting and financial crimes. Given the importance of the presidency, doubling the budget would be money well spent. But rather than request substantially more funds, the Secret Service assures President Obama and members of Congress that the agency is fulfilling its job with the modest increases it requests. Pierson even proposed a decrease in funding.

Meanwhile, the agency takes on more duties, and sleep-deprived agents often work almost around the clock. Citing cost, the Secret Service has refused to update with the latest technology its devices at the White House for detecting intruders and weapons of mass destruction. Yet scrimping on protection of the president, the vice president and presidential candidates risks an assassination that would undermine American democracy.

Congress has also been derelict in its duty. When it comes to selecting a Secret Service director, Congress has never demanded accountability by requiring Senate confirmation.

The list of appointments that do require Senate confirmation is long and the positions often obscure. Not only the head of the U.S. Marshals Service requires Senate confirmation but also 94 marshals positions, one in each judicial district. Besides the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the director of the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime requires confirmation. So does the librarian of Congress and the deputy director for demand reduction of the so-called drug czar. The Secret Service director is missing from this list.

Yet along with the FBI, whose director does require confirmation, the Secret Service is the paramount agency responsible for protecting American democracy. And given its powers, the service’s potential for engaging in abuses is almost as great as the FBI’s.

Since Pierson’s resignation, we have heard proposals to transform the Secret Service into an as-yet-undefined new agency, move it to another department such as the Justice Department, or even place it under the military. These are foolish ideas. If a corporation is performing poorly, the CEO is replaced with an outsider who can shake up the company and change the culture.

The same solution applies to the Secret Service. As FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III removed anyone who did not tell him an honest story. The FBI performed magnificently under his management, protecting us since 9/11 from foreign terrorist attacks.

As Mueller’s successor, President Obama made an excellent choice in naming James Comey, who previously served in the Justice Department. Given that his own life is at stake, I believe Obama can be counted on to select a similarly outstanding candidate to be the new Secret Service director.

Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is the author of The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Cornel West: Obama Administration Is a ‘Drone Presidency’

"I think he's settled for the middle ground rather than the higher ground"

Famed public intellectual Cornel West, whose new book Black Prophetic Fire is a re-examination of key black political figures through a different lens, was initially a big supporter of Barack Obama and appeared with him during his first presidential campaign. But in 2012, West says he didn’t even vote. “I couldn’t vote for a war criminal,” he said, calling Obama’s administration a “drone presidency.”

In an interview with Time for 10 Questions, which can be read here, the always outspoken West said the President lacks courage. “I think he lacks backbone,” he says. “I think he’s settled for the middle ground rather than the higher ground.”

One example of that, he explains, is the way Obama addresses young black men, which West characterizes as “paternalistic,” and very unlike the subservient way he deals with Wall Street. “When you say your major program for black young boys is going to be one of charity and philanthropy but no public policy, no justice, then criticism must be put forward just to be true to the black prophetic tradition,” he said.

The Obama legacy, West says, is contrast to the black leaders in the book, such as Malcolm X, whom West says, “specialized in ‘de-n___izing’ black people”–that is, he clarifies, encouraged them not to “be intimidated, afraid, and so scared of speaking [their] mind and allowing [their] soul to be manifest that [they] defer to the powers that be, especially the white supremacist powers.”

West, who’s no stranger to controversy, is currently a professor at Union Theological Seminary. He’s hoping to draw as many young people as he can to a rally in Ferguson, Missouri, on Oct. 13, to protest the killing of Michael Brown by police there. “It’s a beautiful thing to see the young people in Ferguson and all across the nation, organizing there.”

TIME In the Arena

The Delta Blues

JK_ROAD_TRIP_GREENVILLE_032.JPG
Saying grace Congregants of the New Hope First Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss., attend a town hall on Sept. 29 Daymon Gardner for TIME

Two town meetings, two very different kinds of despair

Politics in Mississippi is still passionate, as you might expect. And it is still tragic, which shouldn’t be a surprise, either. The passion seems to be running with right-wing Tea Party sorts, who are in full rebellion against the statewide Republican Party. The tragedy is in the black community, which is permeated by a deep sense of failure; the most basic political facts of life–like the value of integration–are being questioned. During the last week of September, I attended symmetrical town meetings in Mississippi: of former Senate challenger Chris McDaniel’s extreme conservatives near Jackson and of black elected officials and educators from the counties surrounding the Delta town of Greenville.

“Men don’t follow titles,” said republican McDaniel. “They follow courage.” He was quoting from the movie Braveheart, he said, citing William Wallace–an ancestor of the largely Scots-Irish crowd of 50 or so–as played in blueface by Mel Gibson. Wallace was McDaniel’s model. He fought against the English elites, just as McDaniel was fighting against the old, pork-loving Bourbon Republican establishment, people like former governor Haley Barbour and Senator Thad Cochran, who would compromise their principles in order to get public-works projects for the state. They had stolen the primary election from him. They had allowed an alleged 40,000 Democrats (a synonym in Mississippi for African Americans) to vote in what was supposed to be a Republican primary. Cochran had won. McDaniel was challenging the result. A lawyer explained the relevant codicils to the group before McDaniel got up to speak. It was reminiscent–to me, at least–of the civil rights attorneys 50 years ago, who educated Southern blacks about their rights under the law. There was a righteous “We shall overcome” attitude in the room.

The effort is probably quixotic. Most people in the room believed that the Bourbons “controlled” the legal system. In fact, many people in the room seemed to believe they were beset by conspiracies at the federal level as well. Their solution was a strict, if slightly muddy, libertarianism–McDaniel describes himself as libertarian–on all but social issues. Laura Van Olderschelde, the president of the Mississippi Tea Party, said she didn’t feel safe to “talk about my Christian faith away from Mississippi. That’s how this country was founded, and I cannot subscribe to people who want to deny that.” This unleashed a torrent of commentary from the audience. A woman named Tricia McNulty linked liberals to “Lucifer, who has wanted the fall of man.” A firefighter named Andy Devine said that liberals were in the midst of a long-term plot to take over the schools and impose socialism. They were sneaking this through because the media diverted the public with “the rutting habits of the Kardashian sisters.”

There wasn’t any debate about any of this; there was absolute conviction. The positions were stated in matter-of-fact fashion, but there was a media-wise quality to it as well. There was no mention of African Americans. The McDaniel supporters had been accused of racism and wanted to leave no trace of that. An accountant named Vince Thornton did mention that “so many people were getting something for free,” but that was about as far as it went. “We are not going away,” said Robert Kenney, who quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer about silence being a political decision. “We fight this,” he added, meaning the struggle against the state Republicans, “until we win.”

My first day on the job, a white plantation owner killed his wife,” said Andrew Thompson Jr., the first black sheriff of Coahoma County. “I waited until 7 p.m. to arrest him because I wanted him to spend at least one night in jail. But at 10 p.m., they”–the local white business community–“opened the bank so he could post bail.” That was the way it was now: no more lynching, no more violence. The white folks had gotten clever. “It’s been a roller coaster,” Sheriff Thompson continued. “We made some progress in the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of folks got elected, but we’ve lost ground the last 15 or so years, and especially since the Tea Party came along.”

The mood in the basement of New Hope First Baptist Church in Greenville was a roller coaster too. It started with anger and slowly lapsed toward despair. There was none of the lockstep certainty of McDaniel’s supporters. Something had gone very wrong in the Mississippi Delta black community, and there were an array of different explanations for it. Racism was one: Why were the white folks making all the money from the development of the 80%-black blues town of Clarksdale? Even the local Delta Blues festival–said to be the oldest in the country–was being supplanted by a white-led effort, the Mighty Mississippi Music festival, that was being supported by the business community. “If the whites aren’t running it, they don’t want to be part of it,” said Errick Simmons, a Greenville city councilman, who pointed out that the local casinos, which didn’t help out with the Delta festival, had contributed to the Mighty Mississippi, which–by the way–also featured country music.

The stories of subtle, and not so subtle, racism were compelling but insufficient. There was a piece missing, and these thoughtful people were growing uncomfortable with the increasingly obvious vacuum. The discussion really began to get lively when the Rev. Torey Bell, who said that “the system” was set up to keep blacks dependent, went a bit too far. Even the federal money that had come to upgrade the schools was a trick. “They’re putting in laptops and computers for our kids,” he said, “and they got none of that at home. They can’t comprehend that environment. It’s near impossible for them to succeed.” This was disputed by most of the older people in the room. They’d been working to secure that funding for decades. “At a certain point,” said Timaka James Jones, a clerk at the local court, “we’ve got to take some responsibility in our community too.”

I asked what had happened to the community, so famously strong during the civil rights movement. There was reluctance to answer, at first. But then it came in a rush: the rug had been pulled out from under them. They had rushed into integration and left some of their most cherished institutions in the dust. “We used to have black banks, insurance companies, bakeries, newspapers,” said Willie Bailey, a lawyer and state legislator for District 49. Now, Nelson Street–where most local black businesses were housed–was mostly deserted, except for churches, drug dealers and the famed restaurant Doe’s Eat Place. “The black church was the last institution standing, and then the [George W.] Bush Administration came along with that faith-based stuff, offering money to the churches for social programs, but they couldn’t talk politics anymore.” (I don’t know about that: more than a few black, urban pastors took the money and kept their megaphones.)

The segregated schools had been better, said Jessie Williams, who said she was the first black teacher in the newly integrated schools in the 1960s. The whites left and went to private “academies,” and the integrated public schools became sad all-black husks. The thing was, integration had enabled a lot of the best kids–those who would have been teachers and business owners–to go north. There was some resentment that they had never looked back. “Integration has been a problem,” Williams concluded, setting off a buzz in the room. “It’s the worst thing that ever happened to us,” muttered Sheriff Thompson. But he didn’t really mean that.

I’d like to thank Congressman Bennie Thompson for putting together the extraordinary group at New Hope First Baptist Church. The contrast between their candor and self-doubt and Chris McDaniel’s bold, bluefaced conservatives could not have been more striking, or more depressing. It is the difference between simplicity and complexity. The Tea Party folks believe that all they have to do is win their revolution and everything will be better. The blacks won their revolution, and lost their focus, and inherited a chimera of equality. Now they’ve got to do the hardest thing: regroup, develop new strategies and come on strong again.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/politics

TIME politics

Kirsten Gillibrand On Why She Hates the Phrase ‘Having It All’

The Senator from New York opens up about appearance, sexism and how competitive sports helped her succeed

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) hates the phrase “having it all.”

“I think it’s insulting,” she told TIME’s Nancy Gibbs at the Real Simple/TIME Women & Success Panel Wednesday night. “What are you ‘having?’ A party? Another slice of pie?”

“‘All’ implies that a woman staying home with her kids is somehow living a life half-full. What we’re really talking about is doing it all. How do we help women do all the things they want to do?”

Gillibrand knows a thing or two about doing it all. The junior Senator from New York has spent much of her five years in office fighting to address sexual assaults in the military and on college campuses, all while raising two young boys. She opens up about her journey in a new book, Off the Sidelines, which included a bombshell revelation that some of her fellow Senators had made comments about her weight, including the now-infamous “porky” comments. She dedicates a whole chapter in her book to how a hyper-focus on appearance affects women who run for office.

(MORE: Frozen Songwriter Kristen Anderson-Lopez on Her ‘Aha’ Moment)

“In my first race, my opponent went after me twice on two different kinds of appearance digs: the first was she’s just a pretty face, meaning I’m far too stupid to be in Congress. And I said ‘thank you,'” she said. “The second one was negative campaign mailers where he used a very unattractive picture of me where I happened to be doing a press conference outside and my hair is waving wildly. And he tints it green, so I looked like this crazy witch with crazy hair and a green face—as if to say ‘how could you possibly trust this woman?'”

“They’ve studied this and they’ve found when [a woman]’s appearance is commented on publicly during a campaign, it undermines her; it actually hurts her,” the Senator said. “And it doesn’t matter if the comment is positive or negative. It undermines her credibility.”

But how did Gillibrand gain the confidence to continue running for office, despite her detractors? She attributes a lot of that bravery to playing competitive sports as a girl. “When you play on a soccer team or a squash team, you lose a lot, so you’re not afraid of being in a competitive situation,” she said. “I all of a sudden realized you can win by losing. When you play a tough match, when you compete, you learn a lot about your opponent.”

She also learned through competitive sports that losing can be “a gift.”

(MORE: Tamron Hall on How Not Getting Jobs Helped Her Succeed)

“If you’re willing to fail, you’re willing to compete,” she said. “You will not only learn faster, but that fear is eliminated.”

She added that mentorship helps a lot in navigating those moments when you do fail. She said Hillary Clinton has taken a few moments here and there over the course of her career to guide her in the right direction, and it’s helped her immensely, encouraging audience members to reach out to other young women in a mentorship capacity.

“[Clinton] helped me make the right decisions at the right time,” she said.

(MORE: Kirsten Gillibrand on the 2014 TIME 100)

But Gillibrand was careful to add that, for her, success wasn’t just about empowering professional women to achieve their goals–it was also about helping poor women. “We have to break the glass ceiling, but we also have to clean the sticky floor,” she said, noting that women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 4 out of 10 American families. “All of these women who are working to provide for their kids also need basic support.”

In order to help those women, the U.S. workforce needs paid family leave, equal pay, and universal pre-K, she said, adding that we’re unlikely to see those advancements until there are more women in Congress. Gillibrand pointed to the debate over contraception as an example of how out-of-touch the mostly-male legislature is with women’s issues, noting that 98% of American women have taken some form of contraception in their lives.

“Basic rights that our mothers and grandmothers successfully fought for are still on the table,” she said. “I can guarantee you that if Congress was 51% women, we wouldn’t be wasting a day on whether women should have affordable contraception. We would be talking about the economy.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Odds of George Clooney Running for President Just Doubled

Italy Clooney Wedding
George Clooney and his wife Amal Alamuddin leave the city hall after their civil marriage ceremony in Venice, Italy, Luigi Costantini—AP

At least one British Bookie thinks marrying Amal Alamuddin may have been a shrewd political move

A Clooney/Pitt ticket in 2016, perhaps?

The likelihood that George Clooney will run for President of the United States doubled after he married prominent international human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, according to the British bookmakers William Hill.

The company announced Wednesday that it cut the price of a bet that Clooney will run in half, from 200/1 to 100/1, after “hints made by family members” that the actor has political ambitions.

On Sunday Clooney married prominent international jurist Amal Alamuddin in a high profile Venice wedding.

“George Clooney is not just one of the most recognisable faces in the USA, but in the world, and if he did decide to run for President he ticks a lot of boxes,” William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams said.

Hill still doesn’t think Clooney can win, putting those odds at 500 to one.

And who would beat him? Probably Hillary Clinton, who they place as the five to one favorite on winning the White House in 2016.

TIME Fine Art

These Are Some of Ai Weiwei’s Most Influential Works of Art

Multi-talented Chinese contemporary artist Ai Wei Wei, who specializes in political and cultural criticism, brilliantly conveys his message through a variety of mediums

TIME politics

This Is the Most Sexist Republican Ad of the Year

The College Republicans National Committee ad aimed at women describes Florida Governor Rick Scott as the perfect wedding dress

Updated October 2, 11:45 a.m. EST

In case there is any debate about whether 1) Republicans really want young women on board for the midterms and 2) they’re confused about how to do it, the College Republican National Committee ad for Rick Scott (produced, ironically, by women) will settle the question once and for all.

The ad features Brittany, a young undecided voter, who appears to be shopping for a wedding dress, but she’s actually shopping for candidates for the Florida Governor’s race, get it? Because women don’t like dirty old politics, women like wedding dresses!

She has her heart set on the “Rick Scott” wedding dress, because “Rick Scott is becoming a trusted brand — he has new ideas that don’t break your budget.” But then, frumpy old mom chimes in with some Democratic drivel and tries to get her to buy an ugly dress with sleeves called “Charlie Crist.” The ugly dress comes with “additional costs” like “$2 billion in taxes, $3.6 billion in debt, and 15% tuition increases” which are represented, of course, by an ugly veil, ugly sash, and ugly necklace. Because veils are easier to understand than debt, obviously.

There’s also an identical ad running in Illinois, to endorse Bruce Rauner for Governor.

And we wonder why women think Republicans don’t get them.

 

TIME politics

President Obama, Please Stay out of California

Obama Delivers Economic Address At Los Angeles Trade-Technical College
U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he steps to the podium to deliver remarks on the economy at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on July 24, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. David McNew—Getty Images

Frankly, Mr. President, it feels like you’ve taken California for granted

Mr. President, I realize such a statement may seem jarring. After all, our state voted for you twice. When you were first running for president, Maria Shriver said, “If Barack Obama were a state, he’d be California.” But these days, I bet I could rally a majority of Californians behind a proposition asking that you never visit again. And I wouldn’t have to talk about your record-low job approval ratings among Californians.

No, our fundamental problem with you is more personal than political. You, sir, have developed a reputation as a very poor houseguest.

You often show up with little warning about your itinerary or schedule. (Your excuse? That the Secret Service can’t disclose your movements for security reasons.) Your massive security cordon routinely causes hours-long traffic jams in a state that already has too many of them. I was once two hours late picking up a child from daycare because you just had to stop for takeout in Los Angeles during the evening rush hour.

So you’ll understand why I felt nothing but dread upon reading multiple news reports that you’re headed to Southern California next week to raise campaign money at the home of actress-turned-insufferable-lifestyle-guru Gwyneth Paltrow.

It isn’t just the traffic-related inconvenience that’s tiresome: It’s that your visits are about you taking, not giving. Almost all of your trips have been driven by political fundraising. You’re disrupting our lives so that millions of dollars rich people might otherwise spend here will instead bludgeon voters in Alaska and North Carolina with President Obama, Please Stay out of Californiamindless TV ads.

While you might be our president, these days other leaders seem to do more presiding than you, engaging with Californians about California. Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto addressed a joint session of the legislature on his recent visit. Even the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is much more of a presence in the civic conversation about California than you are.

Why has the relationship between you and California grown cold? I suspect part of the problem is that you and California are too similar. The fact that we don’t disagree on much can make small differences seem bigger.

We both want to take action against climate change, but your meager policy proposals seem like a drag while we forge ahead with cap-and-trade. We both care a lot about advancing technology and the Internet, but you’re squabbling with Silicon Valley over government surveillance (the Facebook and Google guys like to be doing the surveillance, not getting surveilled) and privacy.

Frankly, it feels like you’ve taken California for granted. Even the biggest things you’ve done for us—Obamacare, the stimulus package when the Great Recession hit—can feel like disappointments.

The Affordable Care Act has covered more than 2 million Californians, which is great, but it also neglects more than 2 million of us – undocumented immigrants. The rest of us end up paying, in money and in our health, for their lack of coverage. Including them would have been a heavy lift politically. But you’ve been suspiciously more interested in deporting our undocumented neighbors than legalizing Californians who are deeply embedded in our communities.

As for the stimulus, that legislation, while providing billions in state aid to California, was not nearly enough to offset the huge budget cuts forced by the recession. The stimulus included very little money to help with our state’s massive infrastructure needs, estimated at $800 billion. State officials begged your administration for loan guarantees to forestall the worst cuts, but you said no. The result: California spending on schools and health remains at historically low levels, even with the economy recovering.

Yes, you and your aides and people in other states might grumble: Why should California get special treatment? Because, Mr. President, we are special. You can’t accomplish your biggest goals when your biggest state is in the shape it’s in. You can’t reduce the national unemployment rate much if California’s own unemployment remains well above the national average. You can’t achieve your goal of making the U.S. number one in the world in percentage of people with college degrees when California’s public universities are turning away thousands of students each year.

Your trips here have come to feel like those political fundraising e-mails that keep arriving this time of year. You’re spamming us, Mr. President. If you can’t do better by California on these trips, then maybe you should stop visiting.

Joe Mathews is California and innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.

This article was originally written for Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

This Is How Much More Popular Same-Sex Marriage Is Today Than in 1989

A file picture taken October 1, 1989 sho
A file picture taken October 1, 1989 shows Denmark's Axel Axgil (L) and Eigil Eskildsen (R) on their Oct. 1, 1989, union, when they became the first registered gay partners in the world Keld Navntoft—AFP / Getty Images

Most Americans are in favor of gay marriage today. In 1989, not so much

Twenty-five years ago, on Oct. 1, 1989, Denmark became the first country to grant legal status to same-sex couples, allowing gay Danes to enter into domestic partnerships. Since then, dozens of countries have followed suit, as well as many U.S. states.

But Denmark in 1989 was an aberration — particularly to that country’s more conservative cousins in the United States. A TIME/CNN poll that year found that fully 69% of Americans opposed gay marriage in 1989, and 75% felt that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt children.

A prescient TIME story from November of that year, of which the poll was part, argued the merits of domestic partnerships — and went as far as to endorse gay marriage, despite the overwhelming unpopularity of that position at the time. Same-sex partnerships faced deeply entrenched opposition, from forces as diverse as major insurance companies concern about extending coverage to unmarried partners and social conservatives concerned about morals, Walter Isaacson wrote. When San Franciscans proposed that year allowing gay couples to register their relationships, John R. Quinn, the city’s Archbishop, called the idea a “serious blow to our society’s historic commitment to supporting marriage and family life.” And David Blankenhorn at the Institute for American values said the domestic-partnership movement “misses the whole point of why we confer privileges on family relationships.”

A quarter century later, it’s easy to forget how much societal mores have changed. In the intervening years, views on same-sex marriage have flipped, with 59% of Americans supporting it and just 34% opposed, according to a March 2014 poll by the Washington Post-ABC News.

In his 1989 column in TIME’s pages, Isaacson countered the prevailing views. He made a firm argument in favor of gay marriage that may have sounded eccentric in 1989 but has became mainstream in 2014. He writes:

Domestic-partnership rights and legal gay marriages… can be justified to the extent that the couples involved profess a willingness to accept the mutual financial obligations, community-property rights and shared commitments to care for each other that are the basis of family life. With this broader goal in mind, it makes sense for society to allow — indeed to encourage — domestic partners both gay and straight to take on all the rights as well as the responsibilities of marriage.

Today, 19 states have decided that it does indeed make sense to allow gay marriage, and it’s likely more states will follow their lead — if popular opinion has anything to do with it.

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