Within hours of each other, the president made public comments on a natural disaster and a private one based on sheer panic. The first came after the president witnessed hundreds of homes destroyed in Colorado Springs subdivisions and visited with emergency response teams who were coordinating the response.
Obama spoke to the local news media saying, "And one of the things I've done here, in addition to saying thank you to these firefighters, is to let them know that all of America has their back. One of the things that happens, whether it's a fire here in Colorado, or a tornado in Alabama or Missouri, or a flood or a hurricane in Florida, one of the things that happens here in America is when we see our fellow citizens in trouble and having difficulty, we come together as one American family, as one community."
After observing people's personal property destroyed, hearing about lives lost and the countless stories of fear, Obama made a panicked call. But it wasn't to FEMA or other local agencies. It was to campaign donors.
Tapes have leaked from a frantic call made from Air Force One by President Barack Obama to campaign donors presumably just after visiting the devastating fires in Colorado. According to news reports, the president said, "The majority on this call maxed out to my campaign last time. I really need you to do the same this time." Apparently, a special phone on the government aircraft is dedicated to political calls that are paid for by the campaign.
"If things continue as they have so far, I'll be the first sitting president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign," he said. "I hope all of you still understand what's at stake and why this is so important."
"I'm asking you to meet or exceed what you did in 2008," the presidential pitchman continued, speaking to donors who were invited to dial in based on their contributions during the last election. "Because we're going to have to deal with these super PACs in a serious way. And if we don't, frankly I think the political [scene] is going to be changed permanently. Because the special interests that are financing my opponent's campaign are just going to consolidate themselves. They're gonna run Congress and the White House."
It may not be illegal for Obama to call for money from Air Force One, but it seemed entirely inappropriate based on the circumstances. We expect that our elected presidents understand the gravity of the office they hold and know that symbols matter. After a witnessing the disasters in Colorado, one would hope that the president somehow comprehended that to make this campaign call to donors after getting on board Air Force One was ill timed and simply wrong. One gets that sickening feeling that the Colorado visit might then be all part of political gamesmanship. Could it have been cover for the president politically so that he doesn't seem out of touch in an important battleground state? By making that desperate call for money, it really seems like maybe he really doesn't comprehend the enormity of the situation.
"In 2008, everything was new and exciting about our campaign. And now I'm the incumbent president. I've got gray hair," Obama told donors. "I hope you still believe in me." His campaign should pray that the Colorado voters who have lost their homes, belongings, and livelihoods still believe in him, too.