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.