Nile Gardiner, Telegraph (London), October 5, 2011
Although ignored by most of America’s liberal-dominated media, several online US news sites are reporting that Michelle Obama’s grand tour of southern Africa earlier this year cost American taxpayers nearly half a million dollars–and that’s just for the flights. This follows in the wake ofclaims this August from sources inside the White House itself that the First Lady may have spent “$10 million of taxpayers’ money on vacations alone in the past year.” Without all the figures available, it is impossible to establish the total cost to the public purse of Michelle Obama’s 42 days of holiday during that period, which included her trip to Spain last year (though not the Obamas’ recent sojourn in Martha’s Vineyard).
But we do now know for sure that her visit to Africa in June, with a sizeable entourage in tow, cost taxpayers at the very minimum $424,142 in transportation costs, according to figures obtained by Washington-based watchdog Judicial Watch. As the ‘Washington Whispers’ blog at US News and World Report noted:
First lady Michelle Obama’s family trip to South Africa and Botswana in June cost taxpayers well over $424,000, according to new accounting based on Air Force manifests obtained by Judicial Watch, a taxpayer watchdog group.
The use of Air Force aircraft alone for the June 21-27 trip cost $424,142, said the group, and that doesn’t include the food, lodging, and ground transportation for the 21 family and staff members.
The First Lady’s supporters will argue that her African tour advanced relations between the United States and South Africa and Botswana, even though it also included an safari in Kruger National Park near Johannesburg. I suspect most Americans, however, will view this trip as a waste of public funds at a time when the US is running a massive budget deficit and faces a national debt of more than $14 trillion. In an age of austerity, even the First Lady should be expected to make sacrifices, not least when she is spending other people’s money. It is a matter of public interest how public figures spend taxpayer funds, and Mrs Obama should be held to account. As Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton notes:
This trip was as much an opportunity for the Obama family to go on a safari as it was a trip to conduct government business. This junket wasted tax dollars and the resources of our overextended military. No wonder we had to sue to pry loose this information.
There can be no doubt that this latest revelation about Michelle Obama’s spending is an embarrassment to the White House at a time when the president is talking about spending cuts, and at least trying to give the impression that he is reining in the deficit. It is also a symbol of the gulf between the taxpayer-subsidised, privileged lifestyle of America’s ruling elites in Washington, compared to the tens of millions of hard-working Americans who are struggling to pay the mortgage, hold on to their homes, put food on the table for their families, and simply make ends meet.
80 per cent of US voters still think the country is in a recession, according to Gallup, and the First Lady’s lavish spending will surely go down badly in a nation that has taken a real hit economically under President Obama’s failed policies. It is hard to think of a presidency more out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans than the current one, and Mrs Obama’s actions will only serve to reinforce that impression. Could Michelle Obama prove a liability for the president as he seeks re-election in 2012? Based on this evidence, the answer is definitely yes.