- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

During the Depression, dispirited Americans fled to the fantasy of movie musicals, enchanted by celluloid depictions of the impossibly glamorous dressed to the nines. They lost themselves in the dream of high-society decadence and throwing down champagne in faraway places. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tripped the light fantastic in Hollywood backlot replicas of five-star European resorts. Strapped Americans spent precious pennies to be Fred-and-Gingered, if only for 97 minutes. That was then.

Today, Americans watch their wallets by entertaining themselves at home, downloading video on iPads. In the Depression, people sold apples. We buy Apples. During this grinding recession, families have rain-checked luxury vacations. A notable exception has been the first family, racking up Air Force One frequent-flier miles with serial holidays. This year, the Obama clan spent quality time in Hawaii, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Two days after the Gulf of Mexico explosion that killed 11 crewmen, the family took off for a weekend in Asheville, N.C., where the president hit the links. While the Gulf waters were washing up oil-soaked pelicans, the Obamas were scarfing up lobster Down East in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Earlier this summer, taking a cue from Astaire and Rogers, the first lady jetted to Spain’s Costa del Sol. She and her entourage stayed at the Villa Padierna, a five-star pleasure palace. Only this resort was real, not a Tinseltown facade.

The Obamas spent 26 hours and 50 minutes in Panama City, Fla., presumably to encourage others to take a 26-hour, 50-minute vacation in the Gulf region. They segued to a 10-day vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, living large at the 28-acre oceanfront Blue Heron Farm, which rents for up to $50,000 a week. The president surely had been shown data that the number of Americans on food stamps is at an all-time high. Yet he seemed oblivious to the appearance of these elitist jaunts.

He’s not alone. Incumbents on both sides of the aisle enjoy lifestyles that shield them from their constituents’ financial struggles. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s minimum net worth almost doubled in a year, from $12.53 million in 2008 to $21.74 million in 2009.

The Obamas’ first-class frolics mimic the devil-may-care antics of Fred and Ginger, but the administration is taking on serious water. His top economic advisers have been bailing. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will return soon to Chicago, his suitcase packed with his favorite four-letter words, and audition for a five-letter one, “mayor.”

Likely voters say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate the president opposes than one he supports. Campaigning Democrats prefer to stump alongside President No. 42 than No. 44. They want Mr. Obama on their stages like they want a bedbug on their mattresses. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, locked in a tight race in Nevada, distanced himself from the president’s cop-out comments on the Ground Zero Mosque. Mr. Reid said, “It should be built someplace else.” Not every sentence spoken in Vegas stays in Vegas.

During a pre-screened town-hall in Maryland, a black middle-class Obama voter, Velma Hart, expressed her disappointment with his performance to date. He flashed her his robotic smile, oddly disjointed, out of sync after she’d just told him, “I’m exhausted of defending you.” At last week’s New York fundraiser, the president couldn’t fill a room that holds 650 even after ticket prices were slashed from $500 to $100, then down to $50 a head. That same night, the worst nosebleed seat at “The Lion King” fetched $72.50.

The president appears strangely myopic about his party’s looming wipeout. He told NBC he didn’t catch Glenn Beck’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial, which drew hundreds of thousands in the dog days of August. He said, “It’s not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country.” Mr. Obama selects his adversaries oddly, unleashing harsher remarks in Rolling Stone at Fox News than at terrorists who have “slaughter the infidel” at the top of their bucket list.

As the Titanic struck its iceberg and began a three-hour descent into the Atlantic, the Wallace Hartley Orchestra continued to play as if nothing were amiss. For maestro Hartley’s musicians, it was an unprofitable gig. The ship ran out of life jackets, and all perished. While unemployed Americans attempt to stay afloat, the White House throws them rhetorical flotation devices. The detached president has said, “We are confident we’re moving in the right direction.”

When giving the boss a heads-up on the Dems’ chances in November, White House aides must have a “don’t tell, don’t tell” policy. Mr. Obama may see the writing on his Oval Office rug. He clearly does not see it on Glenn Beck’s blackboard.

Raymond Siller is a four-time Emmy-nominated television writer and a political consultant.