Guy W. Farmer: Our imperial presidency
December 30, 2012
At a time when many American families are living on austerity budgets in order to make ends meet, President Obama and his family are taking a three-week, $3.6 million vacation to Hawaii at taxpayer expense. Obama returned to D.C. on Wednesday, while the rest of the family remained in Hawaii. Nice work if you can get it … and he can.
Nationally syndicated columnist Mark Steyn, a conservative favorite, recently wrote a column about what it costs taxpayers to send the president and his family to Hawaii. By comparison, Steyn opined that the Obamas’ lavish lifestyle makes the British Royal Family look like penny-pinchers.
“Say what you like about a high-living, big-spending, bloated, decadent, parasitical, wastrel monarchy,” Steyn wrote, “it’s a bargain … compared to the citizen – executive of a republic of limited government.” OK Mark, now tell us what you really mean.
According to Steyn, “The total annual bill for flying the entire Royal Family around the world is about $7.5 million, or enough for two Obama vacations.” He added that it costs American taxpayers more than $180,000 per hour to fly the Obamas around in Air Force One, in contrast to the $15,500 per hour that the Brits spent to fly Prince William, his wife Kate, and a royal entourage of seven people around the world earlier this year. Of course British tabloids were outraged that William and Kate spent an “incredible” $83,200 on the flight back home from L.A. to London.
While the Obamas relax in Hawaii, they’re enveloped by hundreds of White House staffers including a 24/7 Secret Service contingent for every member of our “royal” family and assorted strap-hangers, including the presidential dog-walker, one of 226 White House staffers who earns more than $100,000 per year. And no, I’m not making this stuff up.
Doubters should read a revealing book, “Presidential Perks Gone Royal,” by William Keith Gray, who worked in the Eisenhower White House. Gray wrote that the U.S. presidency cost American taxpayers $1.4 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) last year while the British Royal Family got by on a mere $57 million.
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“The Obama family costs taxpayers more than every European royal family put together,” Gray noted.
My personal experience with presidential excess occurred during a 1980 visit to Madrid, Spain, by ex-President Jimmy Carter and his royal entourage. Three huge transport planes carrying equipment and hundreds of White House staffers accompanied Air Force One to Madrid. Once on the ground the huge presidential contingent took over the embassy and the ambassador’s residence, banishing our ambassador to a 5-star hotel. Although Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter tried to act like “regular folks,” that’s difficult when you’re surrounded by dozens of flunkies at your constant beck and call.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a partisan criticism of Obama and the Democrats. Republicans have also enjoyed our imperial presidency. George H.W. Bush took hundreds of staffers to Kennebunkport, Maine, while his son, George W., did the same when he went to his Texas ranch. I long for the days of unassuming President Harry S. Truman, who took the train back home to Independence, Mo., after his successor was sworn-in. Happy New Year!
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a retired diplomat.