Published March 19, 2013
"If he ... spends more time playing the game of golf, I'm sure he can get to where he's got pretty good stick"
-- Tiger Woods talking to reporters last month about President Obama’s golfing abilities.
Conservatives have long complained about the lavish lifestyle of the first family – the parties, the vacations, the servants, etc.
But the Obamas have mostly ducked the charges, in part through PR plays (the first lady visits a Virginia Target store or raves about bargain outfits) and in part because Americans understand that the presidency comes with some pretty awesome perks.
Moreover, most Americans would not like to see their chief executive living like a pauper. Jimmy Carter carried his own luggage to the White House and slipped on a sweater so he could turn down the thermostat. Voters were not impressed.
But there are limits.
The Obamas are rich, as the president points out when he talks about his calls for higher taxes. But with a net worth estimated around the $10 million mark, they are not private-jet rich. That status is afforded to them by virtue of President Obama’s office.
In order to be secure and connected, the president needs special travel accommodations, but those travel requirements give the president and his family entrée into perhaps the greatest luxury of the super rich: luxury travel anywhere in the world on a private jet.
Obama and his January golf partner, Tiger Woods, both travel by private jet. The difference is that Obama’s fortune wouldn’t last even a year if he had to pay for it himself.
But again, Americans, who understand just how awful a job the presidency is, mostly understand that the chief executive ought to have some upgrades. Plus, when our president flies on a foreign trip or to a summit, it’s nice to have the American in the nicest ride on the tarmac (unless the Sultan of Brunei shows up).
There are many other perks, too, including the other exclusive domain of the super rich: lots of well-paid staffers. The Obamas could never afford to have liveried servants, chefs and personal aides like those who attend to them at the White House, but the argument in modern times has long been that the presidency carried so many burdens – personal and public – that first families needed lots of help to do the job right.
No matter how much Republicans complained about the ritzy lifestyle of the first family, it was hard to make the Obamas out to be Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It’s harder to do that with a young family and both parents from middle-class backgrounds – especially as African Americans – than it was with other first families.
Democrats turned Ronald and Nancy Reagan into villains, movie stars (and her being from a wealthy family), for dancing the night away with Frank Sinatra while the homeless slept on grates. Plus, they were Republicans so reporters gobbled up the story line of executive excess like they do hors d’oeuvres at a White House Christmas party.
The Obamas, being Democrats, get lots of extra legroom when it comes to charges of imperial excess. They may be sipping champagne with movie stars, but they want to give poor people stuff too.
Then came the sequester.
In terms of tactical miscalculations, the decision to close the White House to public tours is looking more dire with each day. The goal, presumably, was to begin illustrating the hardships to taxpayers because of the automatic decreases to automatic increases in federal spending.
But the most vaunted political operation in generations somehow did not see that closing the president’s taxpayer-supported mansion to public groups would fall at the feet of the president rather than members of Congress through whose offices White House tours arranged.
The president is attempting a slow, conditional climb-down from ending the tours. Not only will Team Obama resist to the end any admission of error, but doing so on the sequestered tours would call into question every other claim of hardship made on the subject.
But as long as the tours are kept out, everything the Obamas do that is beyond the reach of other citizens and that costs the other citizens money will be scrutinized.
For example, the first family will host a big party for St. Patrick’s Day tonight at the White House. That won’t be cheap. The school kids can’t tour the building, but the president can entertain his guests on the finest Celtic food and drink.
The tour trap is also illustrated with the annual White House Easter egg roll.
The longstanding White House tradition has taken on special significance in the Obama era as the first lady has used the event to promote her agenda, particularly gay rights, aid for military families and healthful food.
When the tickets were printed up for the event, the White House was apparently still in full sequestration scare mode, with ominous language warning that the event might be cancelled because of budget cuts. And if it was, there would be no rescheduling. Little Timmy and Sally and their same-sex military parents would just have to live without their whole-grain, low-sugar springtime treats. So there.
But that would have only made the tour trap tighter. Money for campaign events and private chefs, but not Timmy and Sally’s carob muffins? Not exactly egalitarian.
So the White House is rolling back the egg roll warnings. The bunny will be there aerobicizing! Fear not!
What a PR disaster it would have been to have kicked out the kids but kept the donors, political allies and friends. The guy in the bunny suit suddenly became essential personnel once Obama’s approval ratings dropped.
Until the president finds a way to get those tour groups flowing through the White House gates again, the first family will be under the microscope for all that they do. That has to make the Obamas unhappy, particularly the hostess of the house. And if anyone can lobby the president to reverse course on the tours, it’s got to be her.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Look, I think there's a difference here between ideology and technique. I'm not sure you want the RNC deciding ideology. We had a good debate at CPAC. You can see the outlines of the debate. I think it will be healthy. We have tendencies, and it's the new leadership who will decide the ideological direction of the party.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.