*Celebrities, politicians and athletes made the trek to Magic Johnson’s Mediterranean mansion in Beverly Hills Monday to wine and dine with the President of the United States.
The fundraiser – the first of several Los Angeles-area events that will collectively net more $3 million for the Democratic Party – reportedly included LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson, Zoe Jackson, Ashley Lewis and Antawn Jamison, Diane Keaton, Chelsea and JJ Redick, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, DCCC chairman Steve Israel and DSCC chairman Michael Bennet.
Johnson briefly introduced President Obama as “the greatest leader in the world” and highlighted the virtues of “Obamacare.” President Obama quipped that although he is a 76ers fan, “there’s nobody who is a bigger icon than Magic Johnson.”
According to a pool report, Obama said there were two things he wanted to note about Johnson, the first being “when the incredibly difficult circumstances of his HIV diagnosis comes up. The way he handles that doesn’t just empower folks who are dealing with that illness, doesn’t just help put research dollars in. It moves the country and the world to think in an entirely new way that ends up changing the face of this country and our attitudes with the kind of grace and courage that only true leaders can display.”
The second, he said, was that “Magic has become a prime example of somebody who was blessed with incredible fame and fortune from a sports career and understood his next step is to build institutions and businesses and employ people and go into communities that folks said weren’t worth anything and find that they’re worth a whole lot if somebody’s willing to invest in them.”
Obama added, “Also keep in mind that the last time Magic played basketball was with me at my 49th birthday party, and I just want to tell ya, it wasn’t pretty.”
“Obviously this city loves him, now the Dodgers love him,” Obama said, and he “Just continues to be the prince of this city.”
“This country has gone through some very difficult times over the past five years, as tough a stretch as we’ve seen in my lifetime,” Obama continued, citing the financial crisis, two wars, terrorist attacks, concerns about climate change and worries about politics.
Nonetheless, Obama said he’s optimistic: “When you look at American history, some way, somehow we always are able to confront our challenges.”
“You can make it if you try in this country, and all of us are invested in making sure that everybody gets a fair shot,” Obama said.
“Whether it’s been us moving west and moving from agricultural society to an industrial society to an information society,” he said, “we embrace change” and find ourselves more diverse, fair and just than before.
“That success, that achievement, what makes us exceptional, doesn’t happen on its own. It happens because collectively we come together and we’re willing to work for it.” Obama continued, “There’s a sense that we’re in this together.”
Most of the arguments in Washington today “have to do with whether or not we are going to continue to vindicate those values and those ideas that built this country,” Obama said.
The president brought up the healthcare law: “When I talk about the Affordable Care Act, all the fighting that we’ve been having to do, it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents and why it’s good for the economy to make sure that people aren’t going to the emergency rooms, because that’s the most expensive care, and why the only way we’re going to lower healthcare costs over the long term is if we start delivering healthcare smarter. It’s also a values question — do we want to live in a country as wealthy as we are where if somebody gets sick they lose their home, they go bankrupt, they have to weigh can I go right now to the emergency room knowing that that may mean I can’t pay for my child’s school tuition? That’s not the country I want to live in, and that’s not the country you want to live in, which means we’ve got to fight for it.”
Obama said other questions — about the budget, about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, about immigration reform, about civil rights, about climate change — “these aren’t just technical questions, they’re values questions.”
He said that in many cases we know the answers to policy questions. “We know what works, and what’s stopping us is a failure of our politics and a lack of ambition, and we shy away from what might be hard. And our politics all too often encourages people to think selfishly or short-term, and that’s what the debate in Washington is about, and that’s what the debate in this country generally is about right now.”
On immigration, Obama said, “I’m confident we’re gonna get immigration reform passed sooner or later, because it’s the right thing to do.”
On climate change: “I’m confident that all of us who have kids or nieces or nephews, that we’re gonna say to ourselves that we don’t want a climate that is destroyed because we haven’t been willing to increase fuel efficiency standards or double down on clean energy or invest in the research necessary to keep carbon out of the atmosphere.”
On healthcare, Obama said, “I’m absolutely sure we’re gonna make sure that this country provides affordable healthcare to every single American — and if I have to fight for another three years to make sure that happens, I will do so.”
Obama finished his speech by talking about the virtues of team sports.
“Every politician uses sports analogies, even if they didn’t play sports. My basketball career ended in high school. I probably could’ve finagled my way onto a Division Three team, but that was about as far as I could’ve gone. But when I watch Malia and Sasha play sports — and I’ve encouraged them and occasionally coach them — one of the things I tell them is even if you’re not talented like Magic Johnson, what sports will teach you is the concept of team, the idea of a group of individuals molding themselves into a unit to achieve a goal, to pursue something that is important and that individually we can achieve.”
He added, “Part of what made Magic Johnson one of the greatest of all time — there were folks who scored more than he did, there were folks who were faster than he was, but nobody played a team game better than he did. And that’s more than anything what we need right now in this country, a sense that we’re in this together and we’re pursuing this thing, this objective, an America that is more prosperous, more peaceful and is growing, together. That’s what we’re fighting for. I’m very proud of the fact that those values are at the heart of the Democratic Party.”
Obama’s remarks lasted about 20 minutes. He left Johnson’s home at about 8:12 p.m. for the short drive up the street to Haim and Cheryl Saban’s expansive Beverly Hills estate.