When it comes to President Barack Obama’s political tin ear and inability to feel voters’ pain, truly it’s an embarrassment of riches.
The federal deficit, well in excess of $1 trillion, speaks volumes; but it lacks the immediacy of, say, last May’s Gulf Coast scenes of Obama, alone on the beach, limply picking up tar balls, as BP’s burst oil well was gushing and ruining lives; or the First Lady’s luxurious vacation in Spain this summer.
And now we have the very relatable Oval Office redecoration, costing tens of thousands of dollars, at a time when the federal budget is drowning in red ink and most Americans would be hard-pressed to replace carpets and sofas still having good wear left in them, let alone buy fancy wallpaper from the Hamptons.
And while the work was paid for by the White House Historical Association, it’s naïve to think the “quid” for the “quo” of an Oval Office makeover will cost taxpayers not a dime. But even positing utmost rectitude, the lack of frugality when America is approaching bankruptcy is incomprehensible.
Bill and Hillary Clinton already spent an estimated $337,000 in the 1990s to refurbish the Oval Office — along with the East Room, Blue Room, State Dining Room, Lincoln Bedroom, and Lincoln Sitting Room, with the assistance of Arkansas decorator Kaki Hockersmith.
This work, also paid for with private money, required counsel’s approval, given obvious conflict of interest concerns, and, in fact, as the New York Times noted back then, generated an angry letter from then Deputy Counsel Vince Foster to the White House Usher’s Office on what he believed was the unfair politicization of the cost, shortly before he was found dead at Fort Marcy.
But then redecorating the White House has generated controversy since the dawn of the republic — now more than ever given our nation’s extreme indebtedness.
And just what should our national priorities be? Since Obama is so inept at properly projecting them, it’s helpful to consider remarks by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), poised to be next speaker of the House, to the American Legion.
After noting our nation, particularly our troops, have paid dearly during nine years of war, Boehner reflected: “We have serious decisions to make regarding our path forward, and these decisions will be made in an environment in which we borrow 41 cents of every dollar we spend. This means we must focus on working together to identify our national security priorities and ensure our continued military and economic superiority.”
Quite simply, the test for spending, knowing it puts America more deeply in debt, making us correspondingly more vulnerable to our enemies, should be: Is this spending essential to national security? Fancy new Oval Office digs clearly don’t qualify.
As Obama himself said in February 2009, upon release of his first budget: “There are times where you can afford to redecorate your house, and there are times where you need to focus on rebuilding the foundation.”
If only they had stuck to Michelle’s organic garden, including beehives installed on the South Lawn, a White House first, to supply organic produce and honey. Instead, they’ve supplied rich material for comedians and bloggers (Arianna Huffington dubbed the first family’s redecorating efforts “The Audacity of Taupe” recently). Not to mention both Republican congressional candidates and Democrats in hyper-distancing mode.