There’s a bit of a brouhaha brewing about Ford bringing about 150 “social media influencers” to Detroit and then Las Vegas for the big North American International Auto Show and the Consumer Electronics Show. While there may be some ethical issues concerning transparency and disclosure, I doubt that anyone begrudges Ford the ability to spend Ford stockholders’ money promoting Ford Motor Company and its products. Ford is acting in the fiduciary interests of those stockholders. Whether or not cabinet members and other Washington officials are acting in the fiduciary interest of taxpayers by flying to car shows is another question.
Ford used their own money to fly those bloggers in order to promote Ford. Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood and three other cabinet level officials used taxpayers’ money to fly themselves and their entourages to Detroit not to promote anything but themselves. LaHood, Energy Sec. Chu, EPA Administrator Jackson and Commerce Sec. Bryson had no real governmental need to be in Detroit. The event in the Motor City was a public relations event, not a policy planning meeting. Those politicians came to the media preview of the NAIAS not to make public policy but rather to parade in front of the 5,500 or so journalists covering the event. Ford has an obligation to promote Ford. Do taxpayers have an obligation for promote LaHood et. al.?
I came across Sec. LaHood while he was verbally fellating Sergio Marchionne for the gaggle of cameras and microphones that follow the Italian
rock star Fiat/Chrysler chief wherever he travels at a show like the NAIAS. LaHood was going on and on about how Chrysler would not be here today were it not for “Sergio”. The praise was so effusive that Sergio, a man not allergic to praise, looked almost embarrassed. I thought he was going to hand LaHood a towel to clean himself off when he was done. Maybe I’m a little bit bitter because when LaHood decided that his giving face time with Sergio was over, and it was time to head off to another photo op with another autoexec, one of his hired thugs DOT security agents bruskly shoved me out of his way. That’s no exaggeration. He lowered his shoulder and gave me a body check. I’m quite certain that had I shoved him back in a similar manner, I’d be facing federal criminal charges right now.
Now I’ve been interviewing politicians at the NAIAS for years now. I’ve spoken with US senators and representatives as well as those serving on the state and county levels here in Michigan. I’ve interviewed members of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional delegation and I spent time talking to politicians at the NAIAS last year in the wake of Arizona Rep. Gifford’s shooting so I’m familiar with congressional security. I’ve been at the speeches of three US presidents and shaken one of their hands while they were in office and I’ve met a First Lady, so I’m not unfamiliar with even Secret Service levels of security. I’ve never been shoved aside like that before nor had anything close to it happen. I’ve never given any of those security and police personnel any reason for thinking I was some kind of threat so it’s not like I posed any danger to Sec. Lahood. No, the DOT security guy simply pushed me out of the way. I’m not sure exactly why, but I suspect it has more to do with government employees and politicians making sure that we know our place.
Later in the day I was at the Lincoln display and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was so low key about his visit to the NAIAS that I was standing almost next to him but our backs were to each other and I had no idea it was the governor. He was traveling with an entourage of only two plainclothes Michigan State Police troopers and one assistant. Gov. Snyder’s entire entourage including himself was smaller than the number of security people “protecting” Sec. LaHood. In addition to his security team, LaHood was accompanied by a number of DOT employees.
Why do we tolerate such frivolous waste of taxpayers’ money in order to promote the interest of politicians and government bureaucrats? Is there even a tiny possibility that any of those cabinet officials performed any actual governmental functions while at the NAIAS? Do any of those positions carry as much responsibility as that of a state governor? 2012 is an election year so it’s possible that some of those politicians and government officials will not be back but I can assure that no matter which faces are at the 2013 NAIAS, there will be politicians getting face time at the media preview. They’ll expect extraordinary privileges at limited access events and they will expect for you and I to get out of their way.
At the branching road of Phokis
The driver of Laius commanded my son:
“Out of the road, Stranger! Make way for the King!”
But he walked on without a word, silent in his pride.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options.