POTUS: When The Circus Comes To Town

[Photos by TIFFANY YOON]
meAVATAR2_1.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA For most news outlets, an invite from the White House Press office to cover the arrival and departure of Air Force One is old hat, and on this day most didn’t bother sending anyone to document the wheels down/wheels up of the President’s private bird at Philadelphia International. But Phawker was there with bells on. As you may have heard by now, the President of the United States was in town today for a sum total of two hours to make the case one last time for New Jersey to re-elect fellow Democrat Jon Corzine. What Phawker took away from this fascinating up-close glimpse of the Presidency-in-motion is a sense of awe at the massive machinery of security, planning and logistics¬† — not to mention all the billable man hours and sizable carbon emissions — required to put POTUS’ boots on the ground.

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Air Force One’s arrival was scheduled for one of the runways situated on the rear quadrant of Philly International, a tarmac rarely seen by commercial travelers, one usually utilized by by private aircraft and corporate Lear jets. One plane parked nearby bore the distinct insignia of the New York Giants on its tail fin. The media check-in area was presidential_seal.thumbnail.gifhard to find and at first we mistook a cluster of cops and black-tinted SUVs as the designated rendezvous point, but it turned out to be the entrance and exit point for the Presidential motorcade. The Secret Service agent politely explained that the media check-in was in fact a few blocks down the service road from whence we came, but the thousand-yard-stare he locked on us made it clear that you could very easily get shot or at the very least spend a couple hours having a very tense conversation with the men-with-earpieces at a secure, undisclosed location for making just such a mistake.

So we high-tail it out of there, keeping our hands where everyone could see them, and eventually find the media check-in which is situated in unmarked and otherwise non-descript terminal building filled with families and small children chattering excitedly — we later learn that these people, for reasons unclear, have somehow earned a private tour of Air Force One. The rest are family relations of one of the Secret Service agents on duty. Off to the side are three or four disaffected middle-aged dudes that comprise the assembled media, mostly cameramen for local TV news and that jerk from the Associated Press I almost got into fisticuffs with last year during Obama’s rally at Independence Mall on the eve of the election. AP dude was livid that I was taking up priceless press riser space with my point-and-shoot camera. And even though my case was somewhat weak, I stood up to him on principle, explaining that I was legitimate, credentialed media, and even though I didn’t have a four-foot long zoom lens like everyone else, well, that was just the way New Media rolls. This time I brought a long a real photographer with a ‘real’ camera, because apparently having to remove a lens cap is still a sign of authenticity with the old guard of shutterbugs. Speaking of authenticity and legitimacy, there is, I must confess, a surreal rush that tingles in the back of your head, not to mention an overall swelling of pride, when you tell the White House Press flack that you are from Phawker and instead of laughing or asking ‘What the hell is a Phawker?’ he instead says ‘Of course, we’ve been expecting you’ and hands you press credentials.

After a short wait while the Secret Service search our bags, bring in the bomb-sniffing dogs, wand us up down and presidential_seal.thumbnail.gifthen put us through a metal detector, we head out to a bus on the tarmac that will shuttle us over to the viewing area. Corzine arrives shortly thereafter and works the crowd, pressing the flesh and making little jokes about eating too much Halloween candy to the children. He looks more impressively CEO-like and leonine in person than he does on television with his titanium eyewear,¬† professorial graybeard and trim blue suit. He is one of those rare guys who actually makes male pattern baldness work for him, adding to his aura of virility instead of subtracting from it. Message: I’ve got more testosterone than you do. At one point he responds to a question I could not hear by saying ‘You try running for public office, you’ll lose 30 pounds just like that’ and snapping his fingers. No doubt a reference to the fact that his ad campaign has successfully made an issue out of the non-issue of his opponent’s expanding waistline.

Not five minutes after our arrival, somebody points to a silvery speck in the milky sky and confirms that it is in fact Air Force One making its approach. There are dark-suited men with earpieces talking into their sleeves spread out on the tarmac in some vague but no doubt precise configuration and a man on the roof nearby with binoculars scanning the perimeter of the airfield. Air Force One gently touches down and the first thing that strikes you is how much bigger it is than it appears on television. It is a magnificent specimen of aircraft, pearly white on top, with a sleek stripe of Caribbean blue running from the nose and sweeping back beneath the row of windows, topped with the Presidential seal. The underside is a soft powder blue and the wings are bare metal silver. This modern look, I later learn, was created by French-born American industrial designer Raymond Loewy at the behest of then-First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

As Air Force One taxis up the runway towards the viewing area, it is escorted by a pair of black SUVs with tinted windows, presumably containing enough firepower to eviscerate any threat, perceived or otherwise, in a fully-automatic firestorm of hot lead. The plane finally comes to a complete stop, triggering a flurry of activity as Secret presidential_seal.thumbnail.gifService agents jog into position, the stairway-on-wheels rolls into position and a convoy of black limousines, black SUVS and what looks like a black bomb disposal truck pulls up as the rear doors of Air Force One open and disgorge a small army of support staff, traveling press and even more Secret Service. A few moments later, the President of The United States of America exits the front hatch of Air Force One and descends the stairs, pausing briefly to wave to us assembled onlookers. Corzine greets him at the bottom of the stairs, the two shake hands and smile warmly, then Corzine starts for the limos, but the President gestures to the assembled onlookers and ambles over to us smiling. This is an exciting turn of events because prior to AF1’s arrival, a Secret Service agent informed us that the President may or may not come over and shake hands, it’s his call. But in the event that he does come over, please keep your hands where they can see them, no sudden moves and please don’t hand the President of the United States a pen. The President’s decision to press the flesh triggers another flurry of activity as the dozen or so Secret Service agents zig-zag across the tarmac assuming a completely difference configuration of protection, all the while talking into their sleeves.

The President strolls over smiling and confident and, as always, looking lit from within. He does look thicker than I recall, and I wonder too myself if he is wearing a bullet-proof vest. At one point he is about six inches away from me — close enough for me to count his gray hairs — but in the interest of nominal professionalism, I resist the urge to shake his hand. He works the line with that proud chin and radiant grin, imparting both the gravitas of the office and that gift for effortlessly creating the illusion of personal connection that all natural pols have. After pressing the flesh and coochie-cooing the little ones, he thanks everyone for coming out and waves goodbye, turning on his heel towards the idling line of limousines, followed by the governor of New Jersey. And then the circus pulls away.

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gumby.gifHUFFINGTON POST:¬† Chris Christie, the Republican candidate for Governor of New Jersey in Tuesday’s knife-edge gubernatorial election, has been called out as a copyright thief. The 47-year-old lawyer, who was controversially appointed by George W. Bush as a U.S. Attorney in 2001 on Karl Rove’s recommendation after being a top Bush fund-raiser in the 2000 election, has created an election commercial that steals copyright-protected material from British comedy troupe Monty Python — without permission or credit. The official campaign advert — titled “Deja Vu” — attacks incumbent New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine by using scenes from a famous skit on the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” TV show that features Michael Palin. The ad was is on Christie’s official YouTube campaign site, and has already aired on national TV. But neither Christie — a lawyer for 22 years — nor anyone in his campaign bothered to seek any permission for using the copyrighted material in his election spot. Alerted to the theft of their copyright, members of Monty Python are most unhappy. Michael Palin, who appears in the clip pirated for the advert, is especially displeased that his likeness is being used by the Republican candidate without permission. “I’m surprised that a former U.S. Attorney isn’t aware of his copyright infringement when he uses our material without permission. He’s clearly made a terrible mistake. It was the endorsement of Sarah Palin he was after — not that of Michael Palin.” Monty Python’s Terry Jones says that the troupe is strongly considering suing the Republican for his copyright infringement. MORE

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