Obama's Royal Retinue
By Staff News & Analysis - August 23, 2010

Vacationing Obama can't shed White House entourage … President Barack Obama (left) had a simple task for his first morning on vacation: shoot over to a Martha's Vineyard bookstore to fill out his daughters' summer reading list and grab himself a novel. Easier said than done. His SUV, part of a 20-vehicle motorcade, passed through a cordon of Massachusetts State Police motorcycle officers, in a protective cocoon of Secret Service agents. Tagging along for the quick trip Friday were White House communications trucks, an ambulance and two vans full of reporters and photographers. It was the same drill Saturday when he went to the beach for a picnic lunch with his family. This may be down time for Obama, but like all modern presidents, celebrities and some wannabes, he must move about with a not insignificant entourage. It includes security officers and their array of arms, as well as advisers, friends in and out of politics, and a cook who doubles as a golfing buddy. – AP

Dominant Social Theme: It is all necessary.

Free-Market Analysis: It is not a novel observation, but it probably bears repeating. The vacations that President Obama takes are like some sort of royal procession. It wasn't so obvious under George Bush because he had his own "ranch" to go to. But like Bill Clinton, Obama is a wanderer when it comes to vacation destinations and thus much is made of his travels. Is there a kind of sub-dominant social theme here? We think so. "This is the most important man in the world and he travels in style that befits his position."

Of course, we don't think that Obama is the most important man in the world. We believe he is a kind of manufactured individual who carries the water for a shadowy power elite that evidently and obviously stands behind him. It turns out that, as with George Bush, many of his vague campaign promises degraded into business as usual when it came time for governance.

George Bush, as a titular, small-government republican, did almost everything seemingly in his power to expand government and make use of big-government levers. He went to war on two and even three fronts and maintained the wars for his entire presidency. He attempted (or succeeded) in expanding the federal government's reach in public education, in religious affairs and most importantly when it came to US domestic spying. His efforts at removing habeas corpus, at combining a dozen or more intelligence agencies under one Homeland Security roof and his determination to rip down walls between agencies to create a unified KGB-type architecture ran counter to the small government, free-market principals he espoused on the campaign trail.

But Barack Obama's stay in the White House has produced similar disappointments for his followers. Obama abandoned universal health care when the political costs became difficult to bear, and he has not moved aggressively on either immigration or cap-and-trade, "green" issues as his leftist base once hoped he would. He has proven an even larger disappointment as regards foreign policy, removing troops from Iraq but still keeping some 50,000 stationed there. In Afghanistan, he has actually expanded the war in hopes of "winning" it or at least making it difficult for the Taliban to impose their version of victory.

What is clear, when one examines the two most recent presidential regimes, is the remarkable amount of continuity between them. In fact, George Bush had confused Republicans everywhere by attempting to "solve" the immigration problem by in a sense legalizing South American immigrants already in the United States and then by suggesting some sort of guest worker program. His proposals, in fact, can be seen as more radical than what Obama has thus far suggested on the subject.

When it comes to overseas wars, there is almost no difference between the two presidents. Nor is there when it comes to the more shadowy "war against terror." American intel agencies are still vastly funded; Homeland Security remains an ever larger bureaucratic bungle, sucking in resources like a black hole. Congress, generally, appropriates vast sums for the intel-industrial and military-industrial complex, and this sort of funding remains even as presidents come and go.

If one agrees therefore, at this point, that it makes little difference who is in office – as the state apparatus functions regardless – then we would suggest the outward pomp and ceremony is in a sense compensating for the president's larger lack of power. The American president's actual ability to forge a new a course may be limited, but the show surrounding him continually gets bigger. The idea, perhaps, is to create a sense of significance that he actually doesn't have. He is to be presented as the Great and Powerful Oz so that no one notices the men behind the curtain.

Obama certainly does travel in style. He doesn't drive himself anywhere. He has a helicopter that he uses even for very short trips within Washington DC. For longer trips there is Air Force One. The retinue he travels with his is extravagant and the press coverage that he receives on his trips, especially the vacations, is downright foolish. One is treated, in the mainstream media, to recitations of menus, golf scores and reading material. It is as if no detail is too minute to cover and no luxury too large to provide.

After Thoughts

Like a titular head-of-state, Obama rushes from vacation to vacation with breathless coverage throughout. And while people may speculate as to why he is taking so many vacations, we think we know: There's just not very much he can do on the job, and his power is actually fairly circumscribed, not by the office but by circumstance and sociopolitical evolution. Picking a vacation destination may be the clearest and most unencumbered decision he gets to make. But then again, perhaps Michelle and the children do the choosing.

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