Politics & Policy

Lincoln Logjam

What would Clinton do?

I hate to talk about politics, but like most NROniks, I was perplexed by Democratic criticism of the president’s speech (more specifically his method of arrival) aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln last Thursday. As for the substance of the complaints, such as the additional cost to the taxpayer, the White House has already noted that these were negligible. The investigation being called for by some otherwise unpreoccupied members of Congress would probably cost more than whatever they claim the taxpayers had to pay to get the president on the ship. Moreover, let’s not forget things like Franklin Roosevelt taking the Cruiser U.S.S. Houston to the Galapagos Islands for a fishing trip. It helps to keep things in perspective.

One alleged additional cost was the “extra time” the Lincoln spent at sea while waiting for the president. The ship had originally been scheduled to make port Sunday, May 4, but the timetable was accelerated by two days, and even then, the ship arrived with time to spare and closer to shore than expected. Some have said had it not been for the presidential delay the carrier could have come into port a day earlier, and saved a million dollars in operating costs — which is of course not true, since the Lincoln was only making a temporary stopover before heading to its home port in Washington. Besides, the ship only arrived early in order to meet the president, so true cost accounting might work in his favor. But suppose the carrier did come into port at first opportunity, say, Wednesday night at the earliest. What sense would that have made for the sailors on board? Or for their families who had planned to meet them on Friday? Some traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to meet the ship. What if they arrived Thursday night to find their loved one had already disembarked, and they were denied their moment of reunion on the pier, with all the attendant spectacle? Suppose the Lincoln steamed into port on Thursday, as it clearly could have. Even if last-minute word got out, there is no guarantee that the family members who had planned on the ship arriving the next day could have made the arrangements necessary to show up — taken time off work, arranged for transportation, gotten the kids out of school, and other things non-congressmen have to do to run their daily lives.

The cost and timing issues are just silly. But why raise them when there are more important matters at hand, such as tax cuts, unemployment, and other concerns the president would rather the Congress focus on? One theory is that it is a calculated move to taint the event, so footage of it cannot be used during the campaign. This was as much as stated by Senator Robert Byrd (D., W.V.). Perhaps this was the intent, but it is hard to see it having much effect. It could also have been aimed at the demoralized members of the peace movement, to give them something else to be angry about and keep them mobilized for 2004. That might work too, but the election is a long way off. Plus it will be offset by the impression being generated that the Democrats have nothing of substance to offer and have to resort to this sort of frivolousness.

Anyway, since the topic is presidents and aircraft carriers, I was reminded of the 1994 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings. President Clinton used the aircraft carrier George Washington to ferry himself, various high-ranking officials, 40 White House aides, and 23 members of the Press Corps across the English Channel. He made remarks on the ship June 5, and the next day he and his entourage went ashore for the ceremonies in France (images of which were later used in campaign commercials). Along with them went dozens of towels and bathrobes lifted from the ship’s stores. The Navy investigated and presented the White House a bill for $562. On June 16, 1994, the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance issued a memo to the staff asking that those who took the items please remit payment. No checks were forthcoming, so a member of the office paid the entire bill just to kill the issue. Nevertheless, by then “Towel-hook” had become another data point in the case for the Clinton administration’s contempt for the military. And I’m guessing that after President Bush left the Abraham Lincoln no one felt it necessary to count the silver.


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