Friday, March 15, 2013

Tour-gate: alive and kicking

First of all, tour-gate is a stupid name for the White House tours/sequester mess. But I use it only to make a point which I will come to in a moment.

The hoopla revolves around a decision by the Administration to cancel public tours of the White House proper. This is the message about the cancellation decision on the White House website:
Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that WhiteHouse Tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013 until further notice. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours.

 We very much regret having to take this action, particularly during the popular Spring touring season. Please check this webpage for updates regarding this situation, or contact the White House Visitors Office 24 Hour Hotline at (202) 456-7041.


The White House Visitors Office
Once the story broke, Republicans and various pundits on the Right had a field day mocking the decision. It was, after all, easy enough to point to various other expenses that far exceeded the yearly cost of the tour program. President Obama's golf outings--like the one with Tiger Woods--were quickly targeted in this regard. In an attempt at damage control, the President tried some blame-shifting, suggesting that the Secret Service was responsible for the decision, that the Administration had no hand in it. This all fell apart fairly quickly, as the President's own press secretary directly contradicted the claim.

The whole thing was very obviously a political gambit; the Administration opted to cut the tour program in order to stir up emotions. And that's what happened, but not in the way the Administration assumed it would. It imagined people would be upset at the Republicans in Congress for letting the sequester happen and thereby causing things like this cancellation. But it didn't happen that way, at all.


Because what the Administration--and most of the Democrats in Congress--fail to realize is that people know the Federal Government spends too much money. People now take it as a given. Plus, information on the specific costs of various government actions, initiatives, and programs is freely available on the internet and elsewhere. Part of that is the consequence of Obama's own program. The Administration thought people would see the tour cancellations as something of a last straw, would think "My God, they're even cutting that! Imagine what else must be getting cut!" But again, people are aware of the reality. They've heard or read stories about government agencies blowing big money on trips to Vegas, about Congressional trips spanning the globe, about fat government contracts for very little work, about SEC employees surfing for porn eight hours a day, and about government programs that are chock full of waste and corruption.

And now that the Administration's transparent ploy has been made obvious to all, we have the unusual opportunity to see some truly classic attempts to cover for Obama and company. First, there's Ezra Klein at WaPo. Aside from repeating the nonsense about this being a decision by the Secret Service, he whines bitterly about how Republicans seem to care about tours, but not about people in need in general:
But those folks are going to be fine without their White House tour. You know who may not be fine? The jobless, who are seeing their unemployment checks cut by almost 10 percent. The pregnant mothers and young children getting fed through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates may serve as many as 775,000 fewer people due to the sequester.
A better example of Just Not Getting It, you'll never see. Because Klein can't be this ignorant, can he? The obvious rejoinder to his dimwitted argument: there are always people in need, why then have there ever been White House tours? Moreover, one can simply note that the President would be just fine without his golf trips. The First Family would be just fine without their vacations.

But that's just silly. Obama is the President of the United States. He gets to live like the leader of the nation and his family gets to enjoy some of the perks that comes with the office. Klein has a broken irony meter, apparently, because his long-winded piece indicates that he actually thinks the suggestions about Obama's golfing were meant to be taken seriously.

Another case of Just Not Getting It can be found at the New York Times, where Juliet Lapidos turns her finally tuned intellect to the issue. She more or less repeats Klein:
More than a few commentators have described the tour decision as an example of Washington Monument syndrome — cutting the most visible, popular services to make a point. But isn’t the point — that the sequester is real — worth making? And wouldn’t it be nice if the Republicans currently outraged on behalf of “thousands of students, families and tour groups” who may lose access to the White House diverted a sliver of their attention to the 125,000 individuals and families who may lose access to public housing?
Note the unabashed liberal bias here: "the point" is "worth making," even with a poorly conceived bit of unnecessary political theater. And like Klein, she would fall victim to the same obvious rejoinders. But she also says something else that I think is very telling:
Not since Benghazi — no, not since Fast and Furious has the G.O.P. seemed this intent on second-guessing the Obama administration. I refer, of course, to the matter of White House public tours.
Wow. Someone went to the William Shatner School for the Overly Dramatic, it seems.

Of course she's not serious. She thinks she's being both clever and humorous. And she's being neither, especially since the GOP isn't "second guessing" the Administration at all; it's mocking it. But the real giveaway here is the idea that questioning an Administration in any way, about its actions or policies, is equivalent to second-guessing it, which is akin to Monday morning quarterbacking, criticizing actions only after the fact when the results are fully known.

The problem with such terminology here: no one could do anything but second-guess Benghazi and Fast and Furious because most of the details and background did not come to light until after the fact. Moreover, if Ms. Lapidos really wants to disallow this kind of second-guessing, where does that leave journalism? Was digging in to Watergate a mistake? The Lewinsky Scandal? The Iran-Contra Affair? The Iraq War?

Is Tour-gate on the level of any of the above in seriousness? No, of course not. But is it somehow not worthy of attention simply because people like Klein and Lapidos don't like it (because they're carrying water for the Administration)? Their protests in this regard are evidence of why it does matter, why all of the facts should be found out. For if there were really nothing here, Tour-gate would have remained a fringe story or died a quick death. But it's not a fringe story. And it's not dying. We have folks like Klein and Lapidos--along with the Administration--to thank for keeping it alive. And kicking.

Cheers, all.

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