By John F. Di Leo -
The Washington Free Beacon happened to stumble upon an interesting factoid, and they published it. One day, the Obama administration spent $94,360 hiring a Democrat-connected event-management firm to build a stage for an 18-minute speech. The shock is not that it happened; it happens every day. The shock, to any who are paying attention, is how differently the political factions viewed the news.
Conservatives were horrified, and liberals were offended that anyone would even care. A hundred thousand dollars in a country of our size? A hundred thousand dollars in a nation of fifty states, of 300 million people? A pittance, they say. It’s a drop in the bucket.
But there’s a lot to think about, when talking about any sum of money spent by our government. The government made a conscious choice to spend this money, a hundred thousand dollars, on one event lasting less than an hour. Contemplating how they spent it, and why, might well be revealing to learn, not just about the event itself, but also about the different economic views of the two political parties, and of the two economic theories, that are currently contesting for the reins of the United States of America.
The president wanted to give a speech at MacDill Air Force base, so the administration’s Tampa connections hired Elite Productions to set up the “stage, draperies, and audio-visual equipment” for a speech. This September 17 speech lasted 18 minutes.
Such no-bid contracts happen all the time in an administration with no brakes on spending, an administration that respects no code of purchasing ethics, no internal audit function. They want a shiny stage with backdrops to hide the “unappealing” visuals of an airplane hangar; they hire whoever the local Dems use for such things.
Past presidents have always maintained a dividing line between partisan politics and the administration role. Not to say that they’ve all been perfect… and tying political events in with official trips is certainly commonplace… but there has always been a line. The government may manage the time from 8:00am to 5:00pm, for example, but then the evening would be free for political events. This blending of the two, with no lines of demarcation whatsoever, is strictly an Obama administration phenomenon.
$94,360 IS a lot of money. No, it’s not a trillion dollar boondoggle like the so-called “Stimulus” passed in 2009, or the obamacare disaster passed in 2010… but yes, it’s a lot of money. Let’s add in the cost of the government employees who had to work with Elite Productions, in ordering the supplies and supporting their setup, and we’re at a nice round number of $100,000.
While that’s a small figure in the context of the US Government, it’s huge for all but a miniscule subset of Americans. It’s over double what most workers earn in an entire year. It’s enough for a four-year degree at most colleges. It’s enough to buy five normal automobiles that will last six or seven years.
And this administration blew it on an 18-minute speech.
Surely it’s not an exaggeration to say that there’s something wrong with that.
There is a bit of envy at the core of many common complaints about spending. We may see a friend buy a flashy new car when his old one was still new, or remodel a kitchen or deck when their old one still looked great and worked fine. We may say “Think of what else that money could have been spent on! You could have fed a poor family for a year for that!”
But there are key differences here. That homeowner is employing auto workers and the car salesman and the bank’s loan officer. Or he’s employing carpenters and painters, the craftsmen and construction workers who build that deck or that kitchen. So they ARE helping people by these expenditures, helping people stay out of poverty, perhaps even helping them prosper. Such homeowners help small businesses thrive by employing the contractors and installers, and help big businesses thrive by purchasing the appliances. Their “consumerism,” so often derided by the smarmy, actually helps their fellow man in every way.
This argument, however, is predicated on it being his own money. The homeowner has already earned it, and now has the right to spend it as he chooses. Whether he spends it at the local restaurant, at the local mall, or on all these wonderful contractors, he is doing a great deal for his community by spending his money locally.
No such argument can be made in favor of ANY government spending, because the government isn’t spending its own money. The government does not have, and CAN not have, its own money, by definition. Government only has two ways of acquiring money – by confiscating it through taxation and by borrowing it through bonds. The former denies the public the ability to spend it their way today, and the latter denies the public the ability to spend it their way tomorrow.
So when we consider government spending, we mustn’t just ask whether the contract was properly bid out, and whether the contractor was really the best and most cost-efficient of the choices presented. We must first ask whether the expenditure under discussion is necessary at all.
This is what we should be asking about EVERY government expenditure, big and small, forever. This is what our Founding Fathers asked, back when the government was appropriately small, and when every penny in the public coffer had to be carefully managed.
We must first ask “Is this government activity worth the result of denying the public the ability to spend their money their way? Is today’s stage rental for the president’s 18-minute speech worth the result of denying that money to the local restaurants, theaters, stores, and other small businesses who would get it if the government didn’t take it from them first?”
The Parable of the Paint
One of my favorite Newt Gingrich stories is this one: Three people walk into a room – a liberal, a moderate, and a conservative. The liberal says “Oooh, let’s paint it bright green!” The moderate shudders and says “Oh, that’s a bit much, let’s go with a quiet, muted sage.” The conservative shakes his head and says “For goodness sakes, we don’t need to paint it at all; it’s fine! It was just painted last year!”
This is the key point for so much of what our government does today. The issue of who we hire for a project IS an important political issue. We DO have a right to demand that politically-connected firms aren’t given special priority on any government projects.
But even more so, we have a right to demand that projects don’t go forward that aren’t needed at all.
Yes, this $100,000 in government spending helps a Democrat-connected company, and may help them do things for their Democrat clients at a reduced rate. That’s wrong. It’s unethical; it’s irresponsible and immoral.
But what if it’s also a completely unnecessary expense? We shouldn’t just be yelling at who the $100,000 goes to, we should be furious at the fact that there was no need for this expenditure at all!
This Air Force base has meetings all the time. They have meeting rooms, if you need a room. They have chairs, if you need seating. When the press attends an event, they bring their own microphones, their own cameras, even their own lighting if they need to.
That’s how other presidents, of both parties, have handled such things. They hold events on a dock, on a lawn, in front of a building, inside an airport hangar. No extras are needed; there’s a theatrical benefit to the realism of an actual location, unadorned and unmanaged.
But this administration wants to manage even an 18-minute visit to a base, as if it were a campaign event… perhaps because, as Rush Limbaugh describes it, this administration lives in a “permanent campaign.” If they can just look like they’re always campaigning, never governing, then they can complain about everything without taking any of the blame for the governing that they’ve actually done.
$100,000 to build a stage, without reason or need. $100,000 for 18 minutes. And they do things like this every day, by the hundreds of thousands, by the millions, even by the billions of dollars, passing programs that are unnecessary or even counterproductive, wasting time and money, so they can boast to their voters that they’ve voted for, and passed, some great-sounding bill, like an “Affordable Care Act” that’s anything but affordable, or a “Jobs Bill” that destroys jobs rather than creates or prepares for them.
And so the nation suffers, in a six-year non-recovery recovery, where everything from the administration is temporary stages and shiny draperies, the modern version of the smoke and mirrors that an Emperor with No Clothes has used to bamboozle his audiences since time immemorial.
Copyright 2014 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade compliance trainer. A former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he is also a community theatre actor, and could tell the government a few things about producing a show on a budget of well under a hundred grand.
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