The charade in Los Angeles on Monday when President Obama arrived for a fundraiser and shut down traffic during rush hour — causing a storm of angry protest — is another very obvious illustration of the great disconnect between today’s ruling class and the general public.
It’s not just that Obama seemed oblivious to the traffic chaos he created. It is that he, as well as most politicians today (from both parties), truly expect large areas of a city to be closed down for their convenience, and don’t seem to give a damn that by doing so they make life miserable for everyone else.
To paraphrase what Glenn Reynolds likes to say, traffic jams are for “the little people.”
Obama’s actions here are far from new and have actually been deeply institutionalized since the 1960s, following Kennedy’s assassination. Originally designed to protect a president from attack, the shutting down of highways quickly became a tool to make the president’s life as easy as possible while demonstrating to all his lordly superiority.
For example, I personally experienced this kingly arrogance back in 1979. I needed to get from my house in Astoria, Queens, to LaGuardia Airport, normally a very short 10 minute drive. But as I pulled into the ramp for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway I found myself being waved to a stop by a policeman. The expressway was being closed so that President Jimmy Carter could use it. I, along with hundreds of others, was forced to sit there for thirty minutes, waiting for his entourage of approximately thirty limousines finally go by. To say that this infuriated me is to put it mildly.
Nor do I think this behavior is reserved to Democrats. I am sure that my readers could easily cite similar events during past Republican administrations.
Nor is it limited to American political leaders. The ruling class of the defunct Soviet Union made it offical policy. There, those in power built many urban roadways with special lanes reserved exclusively for communist party officials. Moreover, when they used those lanes the street lights could be commandeered, turning them all green so that anyone on a cross street had to wait.
In the U.S. we have not yet come that far. Yet, that presidents feel it their right to shut down entire transportation systems for their mere convenience suggests that sadly we don’t have that far to travel.
Unless of course the public, which still has the vote, does something about it.