President-elect John F. Kennedy enters his airplane in 1960
John F. Kennedy used his own airplane to campaign in 1960.

Nonsense In The Air

We’re again hearing criticism about presidential candidates utilizing business jets. It’s as silly today as it was seven years ago, when BJT’s editor wrote

Washington, D.C.—President Obama missed a major fundraising event yesterday due to cancellation of his JetBlue flight. The President had arrived on time at Washington National Airport in a Hertz rental car—a subcompact, according to his press secretary—and had been whisked through security. But then he spent two hours checking his bags and signing autographs while waiting to board his flight, only to learn that it had been delayed and—an hour later—canceled entirely. Having already returned his rental car, the President called the First Lady for a ride back to the White House.

Obama’s aborted trip came only two days after Republican contender Mitt Romney missed a connecting flight in Charlotte, N.C., because he’d sat on a Newark runway in a Continental jet for three hours. Then, when he finally reached Memphis—still 150 miles from the site of his scheduled speech—he learned that the Budget Rent-a-Car he’d reserved had been reassigned—and that the airline had lost his luggage. He arrived at his campaign rally six hours after all his supporters had left. Continental subsequently apologized for its delay by awarding double frequent-flier miles to Romney and his fellow passengers.

Silly? Absolutely. But these are the sorts of stories we might well be reading if presidential candidates were to start relying on public transportation. Is there really anyone who thinks that would be a productive use of time for politicians who need to try to quickly convince tens of millions of people in 50 states to vote for them?

Apparently so. Because if you Google virtually any presidential candidate’s name and the words “business jet,” you’ll come up with reports suggesting that they’re somehow misbehaving by flying privately. “Mitt Romney spent $125,000 on private jets—despite a pledge to scale back on luxury travel,” according to one story. Ron Paul “has made fiscal conservatism his hallmark” but uses a private jet, said another. There’s even an MSNBC web page that invites visitors to “take a look through our gallery to find out which big-name lawmakers have encountered private jet troubles.”

And it’s not just the media that are doing the finger pointing. At a campaign event in Amherst, N.H., Rick Santorum—who has been known to fly privately himself—heard an airplane overhead and took the opportunity to portray Mitt Romney as a candidate who lacks the common touch. “Probably Romney flying in,” Santorum told the crowd, as the airplane passed. “Probably a private plane.”

Isn’t it time we stop all this nonsense and recognize that it’s campaigning via airliner, not via private jet, that would represent a misuse of funds?

If we want the candidates to cut expenses, a much better idea would be to push for a moratorium on their frequently mindless and fact-free TV attack ads. Before the last presidential election, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, candidates spent more than $450 million on television advertising in the period from April 3 to Nov. 5, 2008. And those ads didn’t transport anybody to anywhere—except maybe to medicine cabinets for aspirin.