I emerged from this past weekend duly impressed that not only would our president take such a hit in the pocketbook by paying back 5% of his salary, or approximately $20,000, but also that his overwhelming act of generosity seemed truly infectious as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed to return essentially 14-days of his salary.
Apparently, like sympathy strikers, both Obama and Hagel are demonstrating the lost wages of the common folk due to the sequestration — noble, very noble indeed.
Then it crossed my mind about the way the White House operated in the Calvin Coolidge era — a long time ago, yet still worth examining. Following the death of President Warren G. Harding, Coolidge continued to employ Harding’s White House supervisor.
Yet, keep in mind that Harding was a man of considerable financial means, who, if dictated to do so by an extravagant dinner party, would simply supplement his presidential salary with cash of his very own. Coolidge, however, a conservative penny pincher (which, by the way, is how he ran the country with the end result defined by the Roaring Twenties) believed that you should strictly stay within the bounds of the established presidential salary.
Thus, in those days, the entertainment at the White House, including state dinners, birthday parties, and perhaps even an Easter Egg Roll, were funded directly from the president’s salary, and consequently, President Coolidge was always spending time reviewing the so-called household finances.
While Barack Obama continues running a White House operating budget on millions and millions of dollars, I started to imagine what Calvin Coolidge would say about Obama giving up 5% of his salary. Perhaps Coolidge could excuse, or even justify, the occasional state dinner that had to be provided based upon which foreign dignitary just happened to be in town.
Yet, old Cal might have a problem with Obama firing up Air Force One in order to travel to Ohio to deliver a speech that could have just as easily been made from the Oval Office. If Barack was looking for a change of scenery, I’m sure Coolidge would have suggested that Obama simply relocate the cameras to the White House Rose Garden and allow Air Force One to stand-down. Yes, I can definitely visualize President Coolidge essentially rationalizing all of this, and even suggesting some of these very same endeavors.
However, old Cal is probably rolling over in his grave regarding Obama’s recent trip to Florida to work on his golf game with Tiger Woods, the need for occasional shaved ice in Hawaii, the rotating entertainment door at the White House, the trip to the most recent NCAA men’s basketball tournament Elite 8, and, of course, Michelle Obama’s million dollar birthday bash.
With perks like that, I’m quite sure that President Coolidge would have gladly given back a lot more than just 5% of his salary. Undoubtedly, it’s a good thing for President Obama and a very bad thing for us that the White House entertainment rules have changed dramatically.