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Spin Control: Mr. President, make visit to Washington about more than money

Sun., July 20, 2014

President Barack Obama’s campaign apparatus emails arrive almost every day asking for money, but perhaps because I never give him any, he never calls to ask for advice. I have some anyway, unsolicited:

Don’t pop in and out of Seattle this week like some guy stopping at the ATM for cash on the way to pick up pizza and a video. If you’re intent on coming to Seattle Tuesday afternoon – thus turning the city’s traffic from terrible to abysmal for anyone not in an escorted motorcade – it ought to be for something more than just the money. This is particularly true if half the state is still either on fire or choking on smoke.

The White House said last week the president will stop in for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Tuesday afternoon before heading to California, where he’s got even more moneymakers later in the week. The Seattle stop is understandable. Western Washington is one of the places where Obama’s popularity ratings aren’t so far underwater you need a submarine to reach them, and it has tech gazillionaires with money burning holes in their expensive jeans.

It’s not that we don’t like seeing you. Always nice to have the leader of the free world drop by and say “Hi,” even though folks need to write a check to say “Hi” back. But it seems as if no one has mentioned you’re picking kind of a bad time to come.

It’s the summer construction and deconstruction season, and the highways are worse than usual. The geniuses in the White House may not realize this, but tying up traffic on Interstate 5 may be the easiest way to send those approval ratings plummeting in Pugetopolis short of saying you can’t taste the difference between farm-raised Atlantic salmon and Copper River coho.

If you want to make some friends in Eastern Washington – where, based on election results, Democrats could use some – you might want to do or say something away from the cash-grab that addresses the firestorm. It can be a little political; you can say something about global climate change and shifting weather patterns or the need for Congress to set aside more money for firefighting, as long as you underscore whatever it is the federal government will do to help these folks right now.

While you’re raising money for the DNC in some Seattle living room, you might want to pass a second hat for the Red Cross or some other group helping out in Pateros or Brewster or the other fire centers. Let’s face it, the DNC isn’t likely to use much of the money you raise in Washington state this year. Most incumbent Democrats from Western Washington will have all the money they need, and Democratic challengers in Eastern Washington usually have trouble getting a call returned from folks who control the national campaign coffers.

Republicans might accuse you of using a tragedy to make a political point. But if you pop in and out, they’re going to accuse you of being more concerned about campaign cash than people. One of the people who get the big bucks for giving you advice can tell you which is worse.

Having covered a fair share of disasters and several presidents out in the hustings – and even the occasional president at a disaster in a husting – I’d be the first to say there’s not much concrete a president can do at a town that’s been burned down, blown apart or leveled by man or nature. It puts one more burden on the overworked emergency crews and can make the tragedy seem like a convenient backdrop for the evening news.

I recall a time in Nebraska when five tornadoes tore apart a small town and President Jimmy Carter made a stop to offer aid and condolences. It was nice to see the president, one displaced homeowner told me, but he’d have just as soon had the water and power back on quicker than have the utility crews shaking hands with Carter.

But there is some value to serving as the nation’s consoler-in-chief and just listening to the stories that get told to the world because they are told to you.

Some people would say there are worse things going on in the world than the fires in Central Washington. A plane getting shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Israeli troops in Gaza. Sunnis and Shiites going at it in Iraq. But that sounds more like a reason to stay in the other Washington than not dash in and out of this Washington. You could do that, too, unless you’re jonesing for another look at the Space Needle or some Top Pot donuts.

So that’s my free advice. As my dad used to say, people usually think free advice is worth what they pay for it. I write for a newspaper in the 21st century, so I can live with that.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at


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