Spin Control

Michelle Obama’s Spanish vacation is evidently polling badly, so the administration decided to spin her visit by slipping the “inside story” of the vacation to a friendly journalist:

Michelle Obama and daughter Sasha returned from Spain on Sunday, a vacation at a lavish hotel on the Mediterranean coast that triggered her first controversy since becoming first lady. I’m told she made the trip because she promised one of her closest friends, a longtime Chicago pal who just lost her father, she would spend time with her. …
A ritzy vacation in Spain while the U.S. faces tough economic times was off-message — as was highlighting the beaches in Spain after urging Americans to head to Florida’s Gulf Coast to help out the tourism industry impacted by the BP oil spill. …
But the reason Mrs. Obama made the trip — and other facts, not rumors about the travel — are important in knowing the whole story and understanding why she made the call to go.
First, some numbers. Mrs. Obama did not travel with 40 friends, a number used by some news outlets.
She vacationed with two women, one of them a longtime Chicago pal, Anita Blanchard, who is the obstetrician who delivered Sasha and Malia. Blanchard is married to Marty Nesbitt — President Obama’s buddy and the treasurer of Obama’s presidential campaign fund.
There was one other woman. Total: four daughters among the three women. They paid for their hotel rooms and other personal and travel expenses.

The hotel where Obama stayed in Marbella told the press that the Obamas reserved 60 rooms “for themselves, their friends and their extensive Secret Service detail.” No doubt most of those were for the Secret Service; if so, you paid for them, not the Obamas. But here is the point of the White House’s story:

So why did Mrs. Obama go to Spain at this time? She’s not tone-deaf politically. What was behind the “mother-daughter” vacation?
A White House source told me that Blanchard’s father passed away and Mrs. Obama was not able to make the funeral at the beginning of July. Blanchard had promised her daughter she would take her to Spain for her birthday. She asked Mrs. Obama and Sasha to come with. (Malia is at overnight camp.)
“She felt it was important as a dear friend to do this,” I was told.

Sure, it makes perfect sense! I couldn’t make the funeral, but hey–count me in for the Spanish vacation! Really, it was a humanitarian mission. And that explains why they needed the private beach–so they could mourn without being disturbed by tourists:
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I’m really not interested in being hard on Michelle Obama, but there are two lessons that can be drawn from this episode. First, the vaunted Obama political machine that swept to victory in 2008 was vastly overrated. Now that it is entrusted with the mundane business of governing, the Obama machine is frequently stammering and wrong-footed.
Second, Obama’s calls for sacrifice are much like those of Al Gore. It would be easier to take them seriously if Obama himself showed any inclination to set an example.
There is a difference, though. Whereas there is no global climate crisis, there really is a federal fiscal crisis. Next year, President Obama will ask you to make a sacrifice to address the fiscal crisis–he is going to raise your taxes. When that happens, bear in mind that he himself has not been willing to make even a token, symbolic gesture in the direction of economy.

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