President Obama on Wednesday raised money for House and Senate candidates at the home of Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn and his wife Cindy, in an effort to boost Hollywood contributions in advance of what looks to be a difficult midterm election season for Democrats.
Among the 90 or so in attendance were Barbra Streisand, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tom Rothman and James Brolin, according to a pool report. Guests had dinner under a tent in the Horns’ backyard.
Acknowledging that despite a list of accomplishments that there is still a “disquiet around the country” as well as “an anxiety, and a sense a frustration,” Obama said that “the challenges out there remain daunting and we have a Washington that’s not working.”
Obama warned of “a self-fulfilling prophesy” during a midterm election year where “people who have the most at stake in a government that works opt out of the system; those who don’t believe government can do anything are empowered; gridlock reigns, and we got this downward spiral of even more cynicism and more dysfunction. And we have to break out of that cycle and that’s what this election all about,” Obama said, in remarks that lasted about 15 minutes.
He added that his travels to other countries have led him not to “buy this notion purported here that that somehow America is on a downward trajectory. By every indicator we are better positioned than any country on earth to succeed in this knowledge economy in the 21st century. But what is absolutely true is that if we don’t make good choices we could decline, and we’re not going to make good choices unless we break out of this cycle in which dysfunction breeds cynicism, and we have to break out of it. And that happens during midterms. That does not happen during presidential elections.”
The event at the Horns’ Bel-Air home was to raise money for the House Senate Victory Fund, a joint committee set up for congressional candidates. The Horns are longtime Democratic donors, although this is the president’s first visit to their home for a fundraising event, which also included House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Cindy Horn introduced Obama.
Obama, on a midterm fund-raising swing throughout the West Coast, said he was “in trouble at home and the reason is I told Michelle back in 2012 I had run my last campaign. But a couple of months ago, I had to let her in on a secret. And that is, ‘Honey, I’ve got one more campaign I’ve got to run,'” Obama said, as he urged donors to lend their support so the Democrats could retain the Senate and win back the House.
At one point, as he talked about the problems of inequality, a car alarm went off, and Obama quipped, “Sound the alarm, because we’ve got a problem.”
Tickets to the event started $10,000 per person, including dinner and a photo op. Those donating $32,400 per couple got listed as “sponsors” and could take part in a VIP reception. Those donating $64,800 per couple were listed as “hosts” and could take part in a “VIP clutch.”
The House Senate Victory Fund is splitting proceeds equally between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
After the fundraiser, Obama went to the Century Plaza Hotel for the USC Shoah Foundation Ambassadors for Humanity Gala, where the organization’s founder, Steven Spielberg, presented him with its Ambassador for Humanity Award, its highest honor. Among those attending were Toby Emmerich, Ron Meyer, Jeff Garlin, Samuel L. Jackson and Liam Neeson.
The foundation was established by Spielberg a year after the release of “Schindler’s List” to gather the stories of Holocaust survivors and witnesses, as well as those of other genocides.
Obama told the crowd at the Century Plaza Hotel that with Spielberg’s “masterful” movie in which “we were reminded that the Holocaust was not a matter of distant history or abstract horror. The voices, the memories of survivors became immediate, and intimate, became a part of all of is.”
He also talked about the “rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world,” citing attacks on Jews in western cities, “disgusting” pamphlets handed out by masked men in the Ukraine and the recent shootings in Overland Park, Kansas.
“And it would be tempting to dismiss these as isolated incidents, but of the memories of the Shoah survivors teach us anything, it is that silence is evil’s greatest co-conspirator.”
In his eloquent remarks, he said that “none of the tragedies that we see today may rise to the full horror of the Holocaust. The individuals who are the victims of such unspeakable cruelty, they make a claim on our conscience. They demand our attention, that we not turn away, that we choose empathy over indifference and that our empathy leads to action. And that’s not always easy.”
Spielberg praised Obama as someone “who has helped expose the darkened parts of humanity to a little more light.”
“In the face of acts of inhumanity, President Obama has not stood by,” Spielberg said. He cited the president’s creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board and the designation of a special envoy for Holocaust survivors.
Conan O’Brien was the emcee, and Bruce Springsteen performed acoustic versions of “Dancing in the Dark” and “Promised Land.”
Providing some jokes in what was a serious and moving evening, O’Brien turned to what has been a new part of the lexicon for Los Angeles, the Obamajam, or the traffic tie-ups that come from the president’s frequent visits, usually for fund-raisers.
“I know you left Washington 6 hours ago,” O’Brien said, addressing Obama. “But I left Burbank seven hours ago.”
Obama also is scheduled to headline a fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday for the Democratic National Committee, before setting off for San Diego and then the Bay Area for more money-raising events.