(Full disclosure: Some years ago, I hosted a lavish BBC special, and, at the meeting intended to sell it to PBS, the executive from Great Performances said he could only sign off on the deal if I were digitally edited out and replaced by Angela Lansbury. Murder, he shrieked. Lest I sound bitter, I should say I am in favor of this as a more general operating principle for public broadcasting: for example, A Prairie Home Companion would be greatly improved by having Garrison Keillor digitally replaced by Paul Ryan.) The small things are not unimportant — and not just because, when “small” is defined as anything under eleven figures, “small” is a big part of the problem. If Americans can’t muster the will to make Big Bird leave the government nest, they certainly will never reform Medicare. Just before the debate in Denver, in the general backstage mêlée, a commentator pointed out Valerie Jarrett, who is officially “assistant to the president for public engagement and intergovernmental affairs,” a vital position which certainly stimulates the luxury-length business-card industry. Not one in 100,000 Americans knows what she looks like, but she declines to take the risk of passing among the rude peasantry without the protection of a Secret Service detail. Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, has a private jet to fly him home from Washington every weekend.
The queen of the Netherlands flies commercial, so does the queen of Denmark. Prince William and his lovely bride, whom at least as many people want to get a piece of as Valerie Jarrett or Leon Panetta, flew to Los Angeles on a Royal Canadian Air Force boneshaker. It is profoundly unrepublican when minor public officials assume that private planes and entourages to hold the masses at bay are a standard perk of office. And it is even more disturbing that tens of millions of Americans are accepting of this. The entitlements are complicated, and will take some years and much negotiation. But, in a Romney administration, rolling back the nickel’n’dime stuff — i.e., the million’n’billion stuff — should start on Day One.
Mitt made much of his bipartisan credentials in Denver. So, in that reach-across-the-aisle spirit, if we cannot abolish entirely frivolous spending, might we not at least attempt some economies of scale? Could Elmo, Grover, Oscar, and Cookie Monster not be redeployed as Intergovernmental Engagement Assistant Jarrett’s security detail? Could Leon Panetta not fly home on Big Bird every weekend?
And for the next debate, instead of a candidate slumped at the lectern like a muppet whose puppeteer has gone out for a smoke, maybe Elmo’s guy could shove his arm up the back of the presidential suit.