Obamas’ Expensive Night Out
President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama landed in New York Saturday afternoon, and after taking a helicopter from JFK into Manhattan, drove up the West Side Highway, where the northbound lanes were shut down by police for their visit, past Ground Zero, into the Village for dinner at the Village’s Blue Hill restaurant. From there, they went north to Times Square, where they went to to see a production of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at the Belasco Theater on West 44 Street.
Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest read a statement from Obama: “I am taking my wife to New York City because I promised her during the campaign that I would take her to a Broadway show after it was all finished.”
Asked about the cost of the trip, which Republicans have criticized as indulgent, coming just ahead of the expected announcement of GM’s bankruptcy filing on Monday, Josh Earnest told pool reporter Dave Michaels of the Dallas Morning News, that he “didn’t anticipate being able to provide a cost estimate tonight.”
After the play let out at about 11:30 p.m., the presidential motorcade went down Sixth Avenue, shut down by the NYPD, and onlookers packed onto the East side of the street cheered as the presidential motorcade passed as the Obamas headed back to JFK for a return flight to Washington.
The chief complaints seem to be that this is ridiculously indulgent and expensive and that it’s particularly unseemly given the state of the economy. While I’m not entirely unsympathetic to either of those arguments, TigerHawk is probably right that we don’t want the Leader of the Free World to go into bunker mode and that the cost is trivial compared to other things we spend money on. And, as Barbara O’Brien notes, we spent plenty on George W. Bush’s vacations (even if they were less showy).
It’s insanely expensive for presidents to do just about anything because of their need for a large security entourage and to have constant access to secure communications. It’s annoying but it’s the cost of doing business and I don’t begrudge the Obamas the occasional foray into normalcy.
My major problem with these things is the inconvenience they cause for others. It’s outrageous to shut down major highways for the convenience of public officials, let alone when they’re not on official business. Further, I’d be shocked if their fellow theater-goers weren’t subjected to inordinate and unexpected inconvenience in order to cater to the Obamas’ security needs. That bothers me.
I don’t, however, blame the Obamas for this but rather the culture of security we’ve built around the presidency, especially, but to other high offices as well. Since we can’t expect — and shouldn’t desire — for our leaders to live in seclusion for the entire tenure of their offices, we really need to figure out a way to let them get out and about without inordinate inconvenience to the rest of us. There’s got to be a way to simultaneously provide them with reasonable security and not shut down the town around them.