Gov. Butch Otter’s landslide victory Tuesday took me back to a hotel room in Guangzhou when I accompanied him on his trade mission through China in June.
I was interviewing Dubois farmer-businessman Richard Larsen, a conservative Republican about the hay deal the Otter had helped him close with a Shanghai Dairy. I had already written several stories from China and many of the people who had commented questioned why Otter was spending state money on a trade mission.
Here I was 4,000 miles away from Idaho, in the middle of a country ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, which has none of the philosophical concerns libertarian-leaning Otter does. Whatever the Chinese Communist Party leaders do, including tap the powers of the free market, they do with only a nod to the utilitarian value of liberty and freedom.
Larsen and I talked about our readers’ comments questioning the trip, and the proper role of government, now a central debate in this country at the state and national level after this election. Larsen, who had spent a bundle of his own money not only for his trip, but to cover much of the state’s costs, was unequivocal.
"To me that's what the government is there for," Larsen said, "to help us create jobs and be friends to business."
That conversation came back to me when a friend asked Wednesday about President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Asia. They had heard on Fox News that the President was spending $200 million on the India stop of the trip alone.
No wonder the federal budget is so out of whack, they said. Another suggested that perhaps the President should just meet over a teleconference with Asian leaders.
I went on the Internet to find that the story about the cost of the President’s trip came from a source in the Indian government, not the U.S.
There was no confirmation but commentators like Michelle Malkin had repeated the report without confirmation or question.
The $200 million a day figure especially stopped me. That appeared like an amazingly tone-deaf extravagance even in the best of economic times. No repectable politician is going to spend that much money on a trip so I really doubted the number. I’ve covered several presidential visits including President George Bush’s August 2005 visit. It does take a few jets, helicopters and security people to safely cart our presidents around but $200 million a day?
I did a little more research and found that ABC News had reported in 2000 on a trip by then President Bill Clinton costing $50 million, which it said was a record. A 2009 GAO report found that three trips Clinton took in 1998 to Chile, China, and Africa cost $72 million, according to the Senate Republican Policy Committee then headed by Sen. Larry Craig.
Craig, a world traveler himself, was of course, suggesting that Clinton’s foreign travel was excessive. Later, I found that we spend less than $200 million a day on the war in Afghanistan. So what were these people thinking?
So I called the White House for a confirmation, since I’m a member of the mainstream press.
“The numbers reported in this article have no basis in reality,” said White House spokesman, Adam Abrams. “Due to security concerns, we are unable to outline details associated with security procedures and costs, but it’s safe to say these numbers are wildly inflated.”
Instead of having a debate about how we should engage with Asia in the future, the United States is arguing over the costs of the trip.
So how much is our relationships and trade to the fastest growing region in the world worth? Robert Oxnam, former president of the Asia Society said in Boise last week that our relationship with China was “the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st Century.”
Others at the Frank Church Institute conference suggested that the rise of Asia will shift the economic center of power in the United States west where the bulk of future trade will take place.
That means the future of Idaho and its economy will increasingly be tied to the Far East instead of back east.