Boy, did I get an earful from my mother this weekend! Not because I haven’t come to visit lately, but because the president has. My parents live in Park City, Utah, which last week played host for a few hours to George W. Bush. When I spoke to my mom on Saturday, she was still fuming that Bush had some nerve coming to her town, mucking up traffic, forcing kids to stay out of school, scaring people with helicopters, and then sticking the local taxpayers with $30,000 in security costs, all so Bush can raise money for John McCain, who is afraid to be seen in public with him. What really irked my mom was that just two days after Memorial Day, not a second of Bush’s visit involved paying a brief sympathy call to one of the many families in Utah who’ve lost loved ones in Iraq. Instead, Bush spent his time at the vacation manse of Mitt Romney, chatting up people who’d paid $35,000 a piece to get in the door.
My mom, admittedly a huge Hillary Clinton supporter, was practically spitting as she described how Bush and his enormous entourage that included no fewer than five military helicopters not only failed to meet a single non-donating peon during his visit, but also occupied 80 rooms at the exclusive Stein Erikson Lodge in Deer Valley, where suites even in the off-season will set you back $600 a night. The lodge is the most expensive, swanky resort in all of Park City, with twice-daily maid service, European spa offerings, four-star restaurants, and access to many mountain bike trails.
I was afraid to tell her that the taxpayers would also be footing the bill for the lodge stay. Technically, campaigns are supposed to reimburse the government for the expenses and the $60,000 an hour it costs Air Force One to ferry the president to a political fundraiser, but Bush has gotten around this by sticking a few official visits into the schedule in the vicinity of the fundraiser. The “official business” Bush conducted in Utah was a courtesy call to the new president of the Mormon Church, which lasted about a nanosecond.
By comparison, my mom recalled, Bill Clinton, who came twice to Park City during his last term, always got out and shook a few hands wherever he went. Hillary even went skiing. Of course, Mom acknowledged that was before 9/11, but still, she said, the fact that during his taxpayer-funded visit, Bush couldn’t find ten minutes to meet with regular people or even to stop in to visit the local school kids was simply unforgivable.
My mom wasn’t the only Park City-ite who wasn’t thrilled about the president’s visit. Bush has made four trips to Utah during his presidency, more than any other president in history, in large part because it’s one of the few places in the country where lots of people actually still like him. His approval ratings there are still above 50 percent. But Bush picked a bad spot for a fundraiser. Park City is the rare speck of blue in a state that’s virtually all red. Not only was he greeted with protests and middle-fingers along the motorcade route, but when Summit County Commissioner Sally Elliot, a Democrat, learned how much his visit was going to cost the local taxpayers, she grudgingly told the county sheriff to go ahead and protect the president, saying, “Frankly, I don’t care if he lives or dies. Don’t let him die in Summit County.”