The White House dismisses the data, but, according to a study by Brendan Doherty, a U.S. naval academy assistant professor and expert on presidential travel, President Barack Obama has visited swing states “on official business” more times in a shorter span than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17 of his third year in office, Bill Clinton held 40 events over 24 days in the battlegrounds of his time, according to data compiled by Brendan Doherty, a U.S. Naval Academy assistant professor who is widely viewed among political scientists as an expert on presidential travel. Over that same stretch, George W. Bush held 49 events in 34 days, drawing complaints from Democrats.
Mr. Obama has surpassed his predecessors in both categories; as of Nov. 17, he attended 54 events in 11 battleground states over 42 days. “Obama has certainly ramped up the volume,” said Mr. Doherty, author of a forthcoming book called “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign.”
To me, numbers are incontrovertible, but, to an Obama staffer, such figures are easily explained away. In 2008, Obama “expanded the political map dramatically.” That is, he captured states like Virginia that were once considered staunchly Republican, effectively converting them into swing states.
That argument might have some merit — but it doesn’t change the general political tenor of all the administration’s most recent actions, from announcing unilateral actions on the economy (mortgage refinancing! student loan reform! no more swag!) to delaying a final decision on the Keystone Pipeline (although it must be said that delaying a decision was still a decision). It’s not a particularly difficult mental exercise to come up with political motivations for these moves.
Better, I think, for politicians — and particularly the president — to begin to be transparent about the ways the desire for reelection shapes their decisions. No shame in that, really; everybody wants to retain a job they like — and who wouldn’t like a job as a member of Congress?
The question of how to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to events like Obama’s jobs tour is trickier. On some level, taxpayers just have to accept that a president does have access to taxpayer dollars in a way an unelected candidate does not. But the president can’t have it both ways: He can insist on spending our taxpayer dollars irresponsibly, but he can’t insist that we approve of it and reward it the way he wants. From that perspective, combining official business and campaigning just might backfire on him.