By Dana Milbank, Published: April 30
The Washington Post
Dana Milbank writes a regular column on politics..
This was the case on Monday, when he spoke to a group of trade-union leaders at the Washington Hilton. The event, the morning after he and Clinton made a joint fundraising appearance, was ostensibly an “official” speech to the AFL-CIO’s building trades section. But it was a campaign rally in everything but name.
The audience members shouted out Obama’s “Yes, we can” slogan and chanted, “Four more years.”
“I’ll take it,” offered the president, who unloaded on congressional Republicans for not spending money on infrastructure projects.
“Time after time, the Republicans have gotten together and they’ve said no,” he said.
“Boo!” the audience responded.
“I sent them a jobs bill that would have put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work,” he continued.
“Boo!” the audience repeated.
“I went to the speaker’s home town,” Obama said, referring to a trip to House Speaker John Boehner’s battleground state of Ohio, “stood under a bridge that was crumbling.”
“Let him drive on it!” somebody shouted.
“Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore,” Obama joked.
Predictably, Boehner has been complaining about the president’s campaigning. He said Obama’s team should “pony up” and reimburse taxpayers for trips to three colleges in swing states last week. Boehner called Obama’s traveling “pathetic.” The Republican National Committee formally asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the president’s travel.
The Republicans will get nowhere with that, just as Democrats failed when they made similar complaints about George W. Bush. Rules separating the official and the political are flimsy, and even when a president’s campaign reimburses the Treasury, it’s for a tiny fraction of the cost, which includes $179,750 per hour to operate Air Force One.
In fairness, it’s not entirely clear what choice Obama has. As with his blessing of a super PAC after condemning such groups, the alternative is unilateral disarmament. Also, his fundraising total has been inflated by a rule change that allows him to hold events that jointly benefit him and the Democratic Party (although his total number of fundraising appearances still eclipses that of each recent predecessor). Republicans, meanwhile, are determined to block the president’s agenda, so it’s an effective use of time to campaign for their defeat.
Still, Obama’s acquiescence to an intolerable status quo raises a question: Shouldn’t presidential leadership be about setting an example?
Instead, he is erasing the already blurred lines between campaigning and governing. During his “official” speech to the union group Monday, he hailed Tim Kaine as “the next United States senator from the great commonwealth of Virginia,” and his partisan speech spurred audience members to shouts of “Vote ’em out!” and “Gotta throw ’em out!”
“Not everything should be subject to thinking about the next election instead of thinking about the next generation,” Obama said of the Republicans. “Not everything should be subject to politics.”
He should follow his own advice.