Fox News and a number of other outlets reported that President Obama’s trip to India would cost $200 million a day. Jon Stewart mocked this.
I have no problem with mockery in general. I think mockery does a great deal to keep us all in check. I think mockery keeps us abreast of political figures, world affairs, and public opinion. When one engages in mockery, however, they should be called upon to cite a specific counter point. In other words, if you are going to mock Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachman, and Glenn Beck for citing these figures, then you should be required to pony up a guess yourself. As President Barack Obama would say, you should be required to put some skin in the game. If no guess is available, then the mockery isn’t very successful as far as I am concerned.
The $200 million dollar a day figure originates from the Press Trust of India.
The White House has answered these claims by saying that the figures have “no basis in reality” and they are “wildly inflated.” Fair enough, but what is the true figure? The administration won’t provide a figure citing “security concerns.”
In a news briefing Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also refused to release numbers, but he told reporters point-blank, “We are not spending $200 million a day.”
The nonpartisan FactCheck.org took up the issue, says that even though the administration won’t release a price tag, there is “simply no evidence to support” a claim of $200 million a day. One reason to doubt the report, according to the group: The entire war in Afghanistan costs $190 million a day.
That is not to say that some of the precautions for Obama’s first presidential visit to India aren’t possibly a tad over the top. As the BBC reports, Indian officials have been removing coconuts from any trees that Obama might walk under, to prevent anything from falling on the presidential head. And as London’s Daily Telegraph notes, the country has deployed trained monkey catchers to prevent any “simian invasion” (a measure that Indian officials also took when President Bush visited in 2006).
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, called it “a long trip from reality” and said the rumor so far overstates the amount actually to be spent that “it’s not even close to being true.”
As the NY Times points out, all presidential trips are costly. A General Accounting Office report calculated that President Clinton’s similar 12-day trip to Africa in 1998 cost $42.8 million, or about $3.6 million a day.
Fair enough, but how much does this trip cost? During a downturn in the economic opportunities to the average American, how much is President Obama allocating for his trip to one of our most important allies?
If you read left-wing bloggers you read that this charge comes from an unnamed source in India, and that it is being repeated by Rush Limbaugh, Beck, Bachman, and Mike Huckabee. That’s it. The story is dismissed based on who is repeating it.
Here’s the rub, we have Stewart and elements in the media mocking the $200 million dollar a day quote, we have white house officials snickering that that figure is not what they’re spending, but we don’t have anyone calling for a real figure. We have the “Bush did it too” people, and we have the all right it’s a “tad bit over the top” people, but we do not have a figure. If history is any indicator of future actions, I’m sure that we’ll soon hear some story about Thomas Jefferson taking a trip to meet with Sally Hemings that cost $201 million dollars a day when adjusted with inflation. I’m sure we’ll hear that everyone’s doing it, so just get over yourself already and let’s move on. The people don’t care about this. The people care about putting food in their children’s mouth and jobs and if Obama can bust out dance moves during a Diwali celebration. It’s his way of paying hip service to the downtrodden and unemployed.
Obfuscate, excuse, and drop the matter. People will forget. Drop a line about national security and address it in the most general terms. Eventually, the people will move on.
We don’t have the accountability or the transparency that we were promised by this administration. Some would say that politicians break campaign promises all the time, but all of the people who voted for him thought that he was a once in a lifetime candidate. The “one we’ve all been waiting for” so what happened? Why is he acting like a member of the house of Bourbon? Simple: he can.
The president may use humor to deflect these charges. In the coming days, you may hear Obama repeat this charge, and when he does he’ll pause for his audience to laugh. He’ll then make some joke about the $200 million a day, or he’ll make a joke about the Republicans who make the charge. After that, nothing will come of it. His administration will not be required to come up with an expense report after the fact, and they will not be asked about their accountability and transparency campaign pledges.
The charge may, in fact, be wrong or “wildly inflated” with no “basis in reality,” but that doesn’t mean that the White House shouldn’t be held to the same standard we are held to in our daily lives and our travels.