It comes as no surprise, of course, that Mrs. Obama likes luxury. We've watched her jet off to Marbella or Martha's Vineyard (taking a separate plane because she wanted to leave earlier in the day than her husband) at a time when the country is undergoing a severe economic downturn.
Although a conservative columnist dubbed Mrs. Obama Marie Antoinette during the Marbella episode, by and large, Mrs. Obama's lavish ways are soft-pedaled in the press, except when it's impossible to ignore them (e.g., the His and Her planes). Indeed, it isn't even clear if Keith Alexander is remotely aware that Mrs. Obama's patronage of Rutledge might be taken for an example of extravagance by many people struggling with something other than obesity in recession-torn America.
A Republican first lady would never get such a pass. Remember how Nancy Reagan was pilloried for her spending? The press was so hostile that Mrs. Reagan had to woo them by performing a (demeaning?) skit at the Gridiron Club. Dressed in thrift shop duds, the first lady sang a song written for the occasion and called "Second Hand Clothes" to the tune of "Second Hand Rose."
But here is what the Rutledge story really reveals: the jarring disconnect between the president's rhetoric and the way the first family lives. It's as if we had class warfare emanating from Versailles.
Somehow, the first family and other members of the ruling, government class are exempt from the president's rhetoric. Corporate jets are bad...except when they are commandeered to transport chefs, hair dressers, make-up artists, and personal trainers for the use of our exalted rulers. It's like environmentalists who rally against SUVs and suburban sprawl, just before leaving their 10,000 sq foot homes to take a private plane to the latest environmental conference at some posh European capital. The hypocrisy is so glaring that few dare to gaze for long.
I am going to go out on a limb here and bet that the president who rails against corporate jets doesn't raise an eyebrow (we're on the subject of eyebrows, right?) about what it costs to hire Rutledge. Public officials, after all, are the new royalty. The real question is, how long until the president's base—those protestors rallying again privilege across the country—realize it, and how long will taxpayers put up with it?