It may be the worst piece of political stagecraft since George H.W. Bush visited a grocery store 20 years ago and expressed amazement at a checkout scanner--a device that was long-since familiar to "ordinary" Americans.
But this time, it wasn't a commander-in-chief who looked out of place; it was First Lady Michelle Obama, during Thursday's trip to a Target store in Alexandria, Virginia. After Mrs. Obama was repeatedly criticized for her lavish vacations, designer clothes and general taste for the good life, someone in the White House decided she needed a little image work, making her seem less like Marie Antoinette, and more like the common folk who are trying to stretch a buck.
“One thing she loves to do is shop at Target,” President Barack Obama said of his wife Friday in an interview with Philadelphia radio personality Michael Smerconish. Mr. Obama's comments were eagerly reprinted in the Politico, ready to advance the narrative that the FLOTUS simply needed to get out of the White House "bubble" for a little while.
Give me a break. Does anyone outside the Politico staff (and the rest of the White House press corps) really believe that? As is often the case with this administration, the "official" version of events doesn't quite square with reality.
For starters, there's no such thing as an "impulse" trip by the POTUA or his spouse. Even for a short jaunt to Target, security must be coordinated--in advance--by the various agencies involved, including the Secret Service; the Washington, D.C. police force; the Virginia State Police and the local department in Alexandria.
And of course, the First Lady simply doesn't stroll into a store that hasn't been carefully searched (and re-checked) before she enters. It's a given that Target's corporate headquarters was contacted days in advance and preparations at the store began long before Mrs. Obama showed up. We're also guessing there was a heavy security presence around that store hours before the visit began; after all, it takes time--and effort--to deploy snipers, undercover officers, canine teams and the other precautions that accompany that type of visit.
There's also the little matter of the press coverage generated by the Target run. What a coincidence--an Associated Press photographer just happened to arrive in time to snap pictures of Mrs. Obama in the checkout line. And this wasn't some stringer or general assignment shutter jockey; the AP photog who got the exclusive was Charles Dharapak, who's been assigned to the White House beat for years. Gee...what are the odds that Mr. Dharapak shows up at the same store Michelle Obama is shopping at without a tip from the White House Press Office? Approximately zero.
El Rushbo deserves credit for doing what the MSM wouldn't dare, describing the "event" in more realistic terms: "“What a phony-baloney plastic banana good-time rock-and-roll optic photo-op that was,” he said on his Friday radio show.
Mr. Limbaugh was also one of the few observers who bothered to look in the First Lady's shopping basket, casting further doubts about the motive behind the shopping expedition. Among the items purchased? A bottle of Lysol cleaner. That's a rather odd choice, considering that Mrs. Obama and her family live in a government mansion (with a professional house-keeping staff) that buys cleaning supplies by the truckload through the General Services Administration.
Too bad Mr. Smerconish didn't ask the President what his wife was going to clean with that Lysol. As one wag observed, the last First Lady who actually cleaned the White House was Dolly Madison, after the Brits torched the place during the War of 1812. Since then, all the dusting, scrubbing and other chores have been handled by the White House staff. So, what's the probability that Mrs. Obama will personally use that bottle of Lysol to disinfect the White House living quarters?
You'd think that even the "journos" at Politico would be able to figure that one out.
ADDENDUM: To be fair, all administrations create photo ops on a daily basis. But few have been as transparent or clumsily constructed as the Target visit. Could you imagine the reaction if a Republican First Lady, say, Laura Bush, conducted a similar shopping trip? The same reporters who fret over Michelle Obama's tough life in the bubble would be in high dungeon over an obvious political stunt and efforts at "media manipulation."
We should also note one other curious element to this story--one that even the Politico scribes have picked up on. Since Mrs. Obama's visit on Thursday, the staff at the Alexandria target have been on virtual lock down, with only the manager authorized to speak with the press--and only by telephone.
And just how much did the photo-op cost the taxpayers? A former member of the White House presidential advance team (which performs similar services for the First Lady) put the tab (conservatively) in the "tens of thousands of dollars." The source notes that, along with security, there was also a requirement to establish secure comms at the site (through the White House Communications Agency); determine the location of the nearest medical facilities and coordinate treatment planning, in the event of an emergency. Those tasks--and others--are part and parcel of any trip by the president or the first lady, and they require time, money and personnel to complete.
Put another way, that was a very expensive bottle of Lysol.