Last week, I wrote relatively glowingly of the White House’s limited effort to implement fiscal responsibility. In case you missed it, as a part of the president’s series of unilateral actions to improve the economy, he recently issued an executive order to agencies to reduce spending on travel, technology devices, printing, motor-vehicle use and “swag” like coffee mugs, T-shirts and pens. As I wrote, the measure will save the government about eight minutes’ worth of federal spending — but it was at least a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, as the Associated Press reports, that order apparently didn’t apply to diplomatic protocol:
First lady Michelle Obama presented sterling silver orchid brooches and sterling silver cufflinks with Hawaiian Koa Wood to the leaders and spouses who gathered for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. …
World leaders commonly exchange gifts as an act of goodwill and diplomacy. The White House said the gifts represented “a distinct part of the aloha spirit and helps forge new bridges of friendship and understanding.”
The intricately designed orchid brooch was handcrafted in sterling silver by Hawaiian artist Wayne Keeth while the cufflinks were designed by Kara Ross, using wood from Hawaiian woodturner Keith Maile. The cufflinks are engraved with the words: “Made Exclusively for Michelle Obama.”
The article doesn’t mention how much the brooches cost, but the designer told me the White House requested that he not reveal that information.
“They asked us not to,” he said.
Isn’t the president always saying the richest among us should do more? Here’s a thought: Why doesn’t he instruct his wife to spend their own money on these sorts of customs instead of using taxpayer dollars for over-the-top presents? I appreciate the intent of the gesture — but would appreciate the reduction of hypocrisy far more. If Michelle overrides her husband’s request and insists on using taxpayer dollars to make a symbolic move, she could at least dispense less extravagant gifts. Something not made exclusively for Michelle Obama could just as effectively suggest the friendliness and generosity of the United States toward other nations.