We want our small-r republican leaders to live and travel in a dignity fitting for their status.
Their status is neither that of rock stars nor of French aristocrats before the Bastille. But it seems to me that more and more our leaders are adopting styles that are not condign for leaders of the world’s oldest democracy-and that they are sending us the bill.
Husband did some pretty funny shtick the other day on the imperial presidency’s bus tour, featuring Obama as the Marquis St. Evremonde idly inquiring about the origin of that annoying bump under the wheels of the royal bus as it careened through bitter-clinger land.
Mark Steyn has a piece on the imperial presidency-and he’s referring not only to the emperor’s style adopted by the modern presidency but to the imperial meddling in what used to be the private lives of us subjects (Steyn mentions the child who rescued a bird from the jaws of a cat only to have her mother fined by the federal government for transporting a member of a protected species).
Steyn quoted former President Bill Clinton’s response to candidate Rick Perry’s saying that he wanted to make Washington “inconsequential” in our lives:
“I got tickled by watching Governor Perry,” said the former president. “And he’s saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to Washington to make sure that the federal government stays as far away from you as possible – while I ride on Air Force One and that Marine One helicopter and go to Camp David and travel around the world and have a good time.’ I mean, this is crazy.”
I actually Googled to make sure that a former president had really made such an outrageous statement of imperial privilege. He had. Steyn mentions European royals who fly commercial. Don’t get your hopes up though.
Bear in mind that I want our country to have the resources for dignified ceremonies to mark moments of national significance. And I love it that the White House is stately and that the president’s guest house across the street-Blair House-reflects the best of American taste. I have no problem with Martha’s Vineyard–though the optics, as they say, may be bad, coming, as the trip does, at a time of national belt-tightening. But I don’t begrude the president and his wife an idyll (they pay to rent the Blue Heron Farm, and I am not about to tell somebody where to spend their own money!)
Still, it is just plain inconsiderate for the First Lady to bill the taxpayer thousands of dollars so that she and the president could travel to Martha’s Vineyard just hours apart. In normal families-and there is no reason why the one in the White House should behave otherwise-we adjust our schedules to save money. If somebody else-the taxpayer-is picking up the cost, this is particularly to be desired.
Symbolic you say? Since when did the spending of money become so divorced from reality that it is merely symbolic? This is not the kind of thing that can be regulated-like putting calorie counts on restaurant menus. It is the kind of thing that can only flow from a sense of what it is to represent our country. The First Family aren’t the only ones to adopt lifestyles of the rich and famous. This is a bipartisan problem. Members of congress are constantly taking unnecessary trips at our expense. Yes, travel is broadening, but it’s also expensive.
I can’t help but agree that there is something decadent in the lavish, taxpayer-supported style of some of our current leaders.
THIS JUST IN: Mark Steyn has yet another delicious post on the lifestyle of the modern presidency up on The Corner. It’s a gem. The item begins with an observation from Walter Bagehot, the great thinker on the English constitution, on the “dignified” and the “efficient” parts of government.
We American combine these two elements in one person, the president:
Judging from the 40-car conga line to stage a pseudo-browse at a mom-‘n’-pop bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama and the court eunuchs of the media seem to prefer the ceremonial side (“dignified” hardly seems the word for these leaden rituals).
As for the efficient side, Steyn quotes an exchange from The Bus Trip to Nowhere indicating–whoops!–the prez may not be as up on the efficient side-i.e., how the governing side–as he is on the lifestyle side.