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It is shameful for Aspen to pay the president’s bills

The Aspen Times Editorial

It has now happened twice, and it’s still not right.

Two years in a row, President Bill Clinton has graced our high-mountain valley with his presence, arriving with minimal fanfare, racing around town in a motorcade of limos, media vans and veritable miniature tanks loaded with Secret Service agents armed to the teeth.

For two years in a row, local taxpayers have been forced to pay the costs of these presidential visits. This is despite the fact that Clinton in both instances mainly ignored the local populace and kept his eye on the prize – the chance to raise a few million dollars for the coffers of the Democratic Party.

Let us set aside the excitement felt by small children and bored adults, who clearly and understandably are thrilled at the chance of seeing even the black hull of the president’s armored limo, and staring at the inscrutable tinted windows through which he gazed.

This kind of celebrity worship is a very human trait and has been ever since we decided to elevate certain members of society to a station well above that of the common man and woman. And in the case of American presidents, there is the added jolt of seeing a man in whom millions have entrusted their lives through the magic of the ballot box, the man whom we, the voters, have elevated to the position of “the most powerful man on the face of the earth.”

Today’s idolatry, unfortunately, is a trapping of what has been referred to as “the Imperial Presidency.” The man elected to our nation’s highest office is all too often completely insulated from the rest of us. There are always some who hate him and want to harm him, so he can’t get too close to us. Armies of sycophants, drawn to the smell of power and money, surround him any time he is awake and tell him mostly what he wants to hear. His tax-funded domiciles are grandiose.

Still, we created him, so we must put up with him to a certain extent.

But we certainly do not have to put up with being charged twice for the costs of shunting his traveling circus around the country on purely political fund-raising missions that have nothing to do with the performance of his job.

That, and nothing else, was the purpose of both trips to Aspen. Oh, it’s true, in 1998 he managed to get in a little golf, dodging raindrops while hobnobbing with his wealthy patrons. But the main purpose was to allow those patrons a moment of “up-close” time, in return for checks sporting many zeros in front of the decimal point.

Why, we’d like to know, should we pay not only through our federal taxes, but now through our local taxes as well, to allow Clinton to take part in a shameless political scam that corrupts the very nature of democracy? We are paying for the privilege of destroying our own democratic process.

The role of money in politics is a disgraceful one that has been well documented for the last couple of decades. And Clinton seems to have risen to the top of the heap in terms of his ability to play that game, apparently including the risky innovation of courting such foreign contributors as certain movers and shakers from the People’s Republic of China.

This year, to defuse some of the controversy surrounding Clinton’s visit, an anonymous donor has contributed an amount, equal to the “hard costs” borne by local law enforcement agencies, to six local nonprofit organizations. That was an admirable gesture on this donor’s part, but it did not cover the “soft costs” of salaries, overtime pay, wear and tear on personnel and equipment, and other less tangible effects.

And the donation, really, was beside the point.

The two-party system in the United States is a corrupt, bloated dinosaur that has grown too used to corporate largess and is approaching extinction. We all can only hope that fund-raising junkets such as Clinton’s trip to Aspen will soon be reduced to the status of a shameful footnote in history.

But while this rapacious system lasts, political money grubbing such as occurred here last weekend should be made to pay its own way. The Democratic Party is reaping the benefits, the Democratic Party must pay the bills.


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