A lifelong resident of Minnesota, Michael Brodkorb is an experienced communications, social media, public affairs & research consultant and is an observer of all things political. He also blogs at politics.mn. He lives in Eagan with his family.

Presidential visits are political theater

Posted by: Michael Brodkorb under Politics Updated: June 28, 2014 - 11:58 PM

Here is some breaking news: presidential visits are political theater. But the spectacle created by a visit doesn't make them less important.

I was active in Republican politics when President George W. Bush made numerous presidential visits to Minnesota. While Republicans expressed frustration that Obama's visit to Minnesota was highly regimented with a structured itinerary, let's not forget: Obama is the President of the United States of America.  It is naive to think the schedule of the president would not be structured. 

Obama attended a private fundraiser, just as Bush did when he visited Minnesota. Obama held an invite only town hall meeting, just as Bush did during some of his visits to Minnesota. Obama's team worked hard to ensure he delivered the message the White House wanted and they used the best Minnesota has to offer to accomplish it.

The reality is that presidential visits are choreographed and scripted scenes of political theater. There was nothing unusual about the orchestration of Obama's visit. Even unannounced stops by a president are scripted and controlled. Remember, it is the president. 

Obama had lunch with Rebekah Erler, who was described by the White House, as a "36-year-old working wife and mother of two pre-school aged boys." In March, Erler had written a letter to Obama about the economic struggles her family faced. 

The biographical details about Erler released from the White House didn't disclose she previously worked as a field worker for U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington. Obama served with Murray in the U.S. Senate before he was elected president in 2008. 

When the news was reported that Erler was a former field staffer for Murray, Republicans pounced and criticized the White House for the meeting with Erler. An official with the Republican Party of Minnesota said, "In Minnesota, we value an honest debate about the facts, not slick, choreographed stunts like this."

There is a long bipartisan tradition of "choreographed" presidential visits in Minnesota and neither Republicans nor Democrats should be crying foul.

I do believe Erler's past political work should have been disclosed, but the fact that she once worked for a Democratic U.S. Senator doesn't change the message of Obama's visit. Rather than criticizing Erler's past work, Republicans should have embraced her message.

Erler's letter to Obama was about the frustrations she had with the economy. The opportunity for Republicans during Obama's visit was to offer solutions for Erler and so many other families struggling. Obama's lunch with a frustrated working mom wasn't born from a fan letter from Erler, but rather a plea for assistance.

But in a rush to attack Obama for meeting with "a former Democrat campaign staffer" Republicans missed the opportunity to provide solutions to many Minnesotans, just like Erler.

Picture Source: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

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