NEWPORT, R.I. — If the world seems troubled by all manner of calamities these days, President Obama does not want Americans to worry too much. After all, he said Friday: “The world’s always been messy”; it is just more apparent because of social media. And, he added, today’s geopolitical threats are far less perilous than those of the Cold War.
Governing at a time of war, terrorism and disease, and frustrated on multiple fronts at once, Obama finds himself trying to buck up supporters heading into a crucial midterm election season. The succession of international crises has taken a toll on the public mood, not to mention his own poll ratings, and he seems intent on reassuring Americans the challenges are manageable.
As he spent Friday sweeping through New York and Rhode Island to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for vulnerable Democrats, Obama addressed the public apprehension directly, acknowledging that many Americans feel anxious about their country and its place in the world. The showdown with Russia over Ukraine, the emergence of a radical new Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and the rise of China have stirred unease about the future of the United States, he said.
“If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart,” he said at a Democratic fundraiser in Purchase, N.Y., just north of New York City. He agreed that “We are living through an extraordinarily challenging time” and “I can see why a lot of folks are troubled.”
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But returning to what has become a recurring theme at his fundraisers, Obama said Americans should remain calm and confident. “We will get through these challenging times just like we have in the past,” he said. “And I promise you, things are much less dangerous than they were 20 years ago, 25 years ago.”
Obama attributed much of the turmoil to a rupture of the old order in the Middle East playing out across the region in often bloody and unpredictable ways. But he said the Middle East was often torn by conflict and that in some ways the main difference was Americans were paying more attention because of the advent of new technologies bringing home faraway events in visceral ways.
“The truth of the matter is, the world’s always been messy,” he said. “We’re just noticing more, in part because of social media.”
But on a day that Britain raised its terrorist threat level because of concerns about extremists in Syria and Iraq, Obama said his “main message” was “America’s military superiority has never been greater” and its defenses are stronger than they were before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “We are much less vulnerable than we were 10 or 12 or 15 years ago,” he said.
A day after saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” to take on Islamic State radicals in Syria, Obama made little effort to explain his approach to tackling myriad problems in the world, nor did he respond to critics who blame him, in part, for making those problems worse through what they say are ineffective policies. But he said Russia and China were not countries to envy or fear and that America was still the country best-positioned for the future. “This is something we can handle,” he said.
Obama flew to Westchester County for two events benefiting the Democratic National Committee. The first was a closed-door round-table with about 25 supporters paying as much as $32,400 apiece. The event was hosted by George Logothetis, a shipping heir and chairman of the Libra Group, and his wife.
Evidently, during the first event, Obama encountered some of the anxiety he later referred to, because at his next stop, which was open to reporters, he said someone had just suggested he declare a national state of emergency, a notion he quickly discounted as not the way the United States worked.
That second event was a barbecue at the estate of two longtime benefactors, Robert Wolf, former chairman of UBS investment bank, and his wife. About 250 supporters paid $15,000 or more per couple, according to the Democratic committee.
Obama then flew to Rhode Island to attend a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Newport.
At that event, he offered a tongue-in-cheek defense of his wardrobe, a reference to social-media uproar inspired by the tan suit he wore at a White House news conference Thursday.
“I kinda liked that suit yesterday,” he said. “You cling to every last bit of summer that you can.”
In a last-minute change, Obama returned to the White House late Friday, interrupting his weekend trip. He had originally planned to overnight in New York before heading on Saturday to the wedding of Sam Kass, Obama’s personal chef, to MSNBC host Alex Wagner. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama himself made the decision to return to the White House and that it was unrelated to any current events.
Obama planned to travel back to Westchester County in New York on Saturday afternoon to attend the wedding.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.