Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Living Small

Democrats in Congress are making a big fuss over the costs of President Bush's jet landing on an aircraft carrier last week. Even with the most aggressive accounting assumptions, the Democrats can assert only the cost of the trip may have been as much as $1 million - although the actual costs are probably more like $100,000. It is a curious response, since it mostly - and very predictably - makes the Democrats look small and bitter. As liberal columnist Matt Miller correctly notes:

Every so often you come across evidence that a political party is losing its mind. Something like that is happening to Democrats over President Bush's fabulous "top gun" photo-op aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. It's a case study in how Bush and Karl Rove have left so many Democrats undone.

To get some idea of how ineffectual and counterproductive the Democratic criticism will be, one might compare it to prior criticism of the cost of a Presidential trip. Specifically, President Clinton traveled to China in his first term for about 10 days - a trip that cost the American government about $45 million dollars and had few practical benefits to the United States. The Clinton China trip was more political grandstanding for Mr. Clinton than a justifiable, necessary or valuable action by the President. The trip and its costs were criticized - with no effect.

Hillary Clinton also traveled to China. She was not even a public official at the time. In 1995 Congressman Dan Burton from Indiana questioned why Hillary Clinton's trip to the women's conference in China had to cost 1.5 million dollars for air transportation alone (Congressman Dan Burton News Release, Sept. 13th, 1995, Indianapolis, IN.). Hillary Clinton was reportedly accompanied by 5 Air Force jets and a 125 member delegation. Hillary and her staff traveled in a C-137 and the White House dispatched at least three C-141 Starlifters and one C-130 Transport aircraft, which were said to be carrying cargo or luggage only. Burton also criticized the costs associated with the trip other than transportation costs. He said, "You have to take into account the advance teams, the Secret Service, the food and lodging expenses of the entire 125-person delegation and their staffs, the storage of official aircraft in China, the costs of motorcade vehicles, the salaries of everyone from pilots, to ground crews, to staffers who have been planning this trip for weeks. I think America would be astonished to hear whatever this staggering sum might be."

Representative Burton was probably right. But his comments being correct didn't make him look any better - and he certainly didn't do material harm to the Clintons with that sniping.

Mr. Bush's aircraft carrier celebration was vastly more justifiable - and vastly less expensive - than President Clinton's China hijinks. The aircraft carrier celebration was vastly less expensive than Hillary Clinton's China trip.

How can the Democrats engaged in this exercise in self-diminution not understand what the effect of their criticism will be?

UPDATE: Fritz Schranck and the Journal have interesting things to say about all this.

FURTHER UPDATE: The White House reaction to the Democratic sniping seems to be close to defiant jubilation. The Democrats and their sympathizers in the media who are engaged in this silliness might want to ask themselves why that is the case.

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