President Obama demeans the office of the presidency by traveling to Denmark, where he will reduce himself to the role of Billy Mays pitchman in the U.S. bid to win the 2016 Olympic games for Chicago.
The greatest asset a president of the United States has is his credibility and his time. I know because I had the privilege of being the "gate keeper" for President George W. Bush.
I was Deputy Assistant to the President for Appointments and Scheduling, Vetting and Research. I was responsible for Mr. Bush's time management and planning. As such, I was acutely aware of how valuable and important the time of the president of the United States is.
Everyone wants the president's time but there is only a certain amount of it that is available. It is worth its weight in gold and is a finite commodity and thus, must be protected and used wisely.
We had a saying in the White House, that if you wanted to see the president, you never will, however, if you need to see the president, you always will. The only question is to how much time you would be given.
The questions we wrestled with everyday when the senior staff wanted the president to do something went like this: is this the best use of his time, is he the right person to be doing this, is the timing right, how will it be perceived by the public and the press, and will it advance policy?
The last minute decision by the president and his staff to sell the Olympic committee on Chicago is a mistake. It fails the five-prong test I alluded to above. Here's why:
1. It is not the best use of the president's time. At a moment when we are wrestling with generational policy challenges on the economy, two wars and health care, why is the president being needlessly distracted?
2. President Obama is not the right person to be the lead lobbyist pitching the Olympics for Chicago. There are alternatives that have been used by presidents in the past with great success. A delegation should be a sent as a "presidential delegation" but be led by the first lady, accompanied by the others the president selects, such as the Mayor of Chicago, cabinet secretaries, business leaders, etc.
3. The timing could not be more wrong. The president has huge challenges at home and abroad that need his immediate attention and even a day's distraction is too much.
4. The public and the press are already mocking Mr. Obama's last minute decision to go to Denmark, calling it a move that reduces him to a pitchman. Is it worth the risk to the prestige of his high office to be rebuffed and stand by as another city is chosen? I don't think so.
5. The president's trip to Denmark will not advance any of his most immediate policy goals and objectives.
Now, lets consider the economics of such an impulsive, last minute decision by the president to travel abroad. When we occupied the White House we were acutely aware of the cost and expense to the taxpayer as to what we did, how we did it and what impact any travel would have on the travel budget, the military, the Secret Service, the host venue and a myriad of support agencies.
You will be interested to learn that even a one day in-and-out trip to Denmark will cost the U.S. taxpayer tens of millions of dollars. In excess of 600 people will travel in advance and with the president. Numerous military cargo planes will be dispatched to fly in his limos and support equipment. Embassy Staff will be beefed up with support staff from all over Europe and beyond.
Air Force one, a back up Air Force One and top secret military aircraft will join the presidential flight operation on the trip over and back. The costs and logistics are immense. But, the ultimate question is, is it worth it? Is the benefit of the travel, worth the reward the president seeks? Clearly the answer is no.
Politically, economically and historically it makes no sense for the president to travel to Denmark. This is just another example of a White House that is out of touch with the realities and priorities of governing.
This is not something the president must do; this is something he should not do.
Bradley A. Blakeman was Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-2004.