The Campaign Spot

Tim Kaine: How Dare Anyone Criticize Michelle Obama’s Trip!

This morning, DNC chair Tim Kaine comes out swinging at those disgruntled by the first lady’s trip to Spain:

Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine is defending first lady Michelle Obama’s vacation trip to Spain, saying critics of her travels are trying to politicize the issue.

Kaine tells NBC’s “Today” show he thinks “it’s wrong” to talk critically about her trips. Critics contend they send a poor message at a time when many Americans are out of work.

Kaine said, “She’s a mom.” He said this was an opportunity for her to take nine-year-old daughter Sasha to a part of the world she hadn’t seen before.

Kaine said President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are “focused on being good parents.”

The New York Times tried to get a handle on the costs:

Officials note that the first lady is paying for her own room, food and transportation, and the friends she brought will pay for theirs as well. The government pays for security, and the Secret Service, not the first lady, determines what is needed.

Officials said some reports of the trip had been exaggerated. Mrs. Obama is not traveling with 40 friends, one official said, but with two friends and four of their daughters, as well as a couple of aides and a couple of advance staff members. The staff is with her because she will pay a courtesy call on King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía on the island of Majorca on Sunday before flying home to Washington.

Every first lady in modern times has flown on government planes with a sizable security detail, and it is hard to pinpoint the cost to taxpayers. The Air Force jet she flew costs $11,351 per hour to operate, according to several reports, meaning a 14-hour round trip would cost nearly $160,000. The first lady would reimburse only the equivalent of first-class commercial tickets for herself and her daughter Sasha, the rest of the seats being occupied mainly by Secret Service. Officials said their friends flew on separate commercial flights.

What’s going on here? I was reminded of a closing passage in Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes:

The White House is the thickest and shiniest bubble of all.

It’s not just that we can’t see him. From the White House, he can’t see anything outside. Why didn’t Bush get it?

Well, the White House was running like a top! Everyone who walked into his office had a wonderful job – and were excited by the swell things they were doing for the country and its people. Every microphone over which he peered had a thousand faces upturned to his, ready to cheer his every applause line. If he left Washington, every tarmac on which Air Force One touched down had a line of prosperous people in suits, to pump Bush’s hand and tell him things were, we were, he was . . . great!

In that context, the cheery tone of the administration’s assessment of the economy makes more sense.

UPDATE: Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times rebukes Gibbs:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked at a Wednesday briefing if there was any concern about “the appearance” of Mrs. Obama’s Spain trip.

“The first lady is on a private trip. She is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip. And I think I’d leave it at that,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs is wrong. Mrs. Obama oversees a major Obama domestic initiative, the child health campaign. In April, she flew to Mexico to launch her “international agenda” of youth engagement. And she supervises an East Wing staff that is responsible for every special event in the White House, from bill signings to state dinners. Mrs. Obama is a public figure and it is reasonable to ask how she spends taxpayer resources.

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