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Editorial: Right constructs its own reality

Published 4:56pm Sunday, November 7, 2010

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010

Did you hear the one about the arrogant, out-of-touch, imperial President of the United States spending $200 million a day to flee the disastrous midterm election with an Asian trip? It fits the narrative, but think about the sheer enormity of that figure.

All three Kardashian sisters and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” couldn’t blow through that kind of dough if they dedicated themselves to a marathon shopping spree.

Pundits on the right spread it avidly until it seemed true by sheer repetition, then denounced Barack Obama, confident his administration would have to be less than transparent in response due to national security concerns of the logistics of a traveling chief executive.

Again, think about this absurd information.

Two billion dollars for a trip that will divert 34 Navy ships?

Outrageous! But not necessarily true.

For Republican politicians, these enormous distracting numbers help change the subject from what they didn’t want to address in the days after great gains in the midterm elections. You won. What precisely are you going to cut?

Asked about sharp cuts Sen. Paul Ryan recommends to Medicare and Social Security, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann unresponsively replied, “The President of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking 2,000 people with him. He’ll be renting out over 870 rooms in India. These are five-star hotel rooms of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending, a very small example.” Pressed for sources, Bachmann reportedly said these are the numbers coming out in the press.

In India. The figure came from a quote by an alleged Indian provincial official reported by India’s Press Trust, equivalent to The Associated Press or Reuters.

The quote was anonymous. No name attached. No proof. No follow-up reporting. The kind of quote if passed along in an American newspaper without context Sarah Palin would be railing about the lamestream media. The Drudge Report and other online sites picked it up and almost immediately it made its way into the conversation on talk radio.

By the time Glenn Beck sounded off on the $2 billion junket involving 34 warships, the alleged royalists entourage had been bumped up from 2,000 to 3,000.

At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “I’m not going into how much it costs to protect the President. Costs are comparable to when President Clinton and President Bush traveled abroad. This trip doesn’t cost $200 million a day.”

The Pentagon went farther in knocking down the report.

“I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy, some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier, in support of the President’s trip to Asia. That’s just comical,” Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. “Nothing close to that is being done.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, waging war in Afghanistan “only” costs $190 million a day.

CNN examined the $200 million claim from a different angle. When President Clinton traveled to six African countries in 1998 for 11 days with 1,300 people, it cost $5.2 million a day, adjusted for inflation.

Obama will visit four countries in nine days with an unknown number of travelers.

It might be comical if the right wasn’t constructing its own reality.

Obama’s critics aren’t entitled to their own facts.

When it comes to government waste and overspending, Republicans are in the catbird seat after Tuesday’s election with plenty of real ammunition.

They don’t need to resort to gross exaggerations.

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