President Bush's Cabinet members wore a path in the jet stream this summer flying back and forth between Washington, D.C., and the Pacific Northwest. But the frequent-flier marathon does signify a national crisis on the West Coast. This was old-fashioned political stumping at the taxpayers' expense.
Bush is still stinging from the humiliation of being beaten by, of all people, the now-forgotten Michael Dukakis in Oregon and Washington in 1988. With congressional elections on Bush's front burner next to the Iraq crisis, the president's minions have been pressed into service.Cabinet members have suddenly become lifelong soul mates with guys like Rep. Denny Smith, R-Ore., who is facing a stiff re-election challenge, and conservative Bob Williams, who is trying to oust liberal Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, D-Wash.
Some of these missions have traces of meat on them, but most of it has been served up on expensive plates - like the private $500-a-plate GOP fund-raiser hosted by Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole in mid-July in the penthouse dining room of Portland's U.S. Bancorp Tower.
While she was in the neighborhood, Dole was the guest of honor at the meal that raised $50,000 for Smith's campaign, and she spoke at a fund-raiser for Williams across the Columbia River in Vancouver.
Dole's visit, like the others, made a pretense of official business, just enough to charge the taxpayers' for the trip.
Bush himself flew to Portland in mid-May to give a forgettable speech on the economy, sitting on the fence between spotted owls and loggers. That duty aside, Bush was free to star at the $1,000-a-plate shindig for GOP candidates for Oregon races.
The accommodating president also managed to be photographed chatting with Smith. Williams got his photo taken with the president, too.
Since then, first lady Barbara Bush, Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, Trade Representative Carla Hills, Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward Derwinski, Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner and Bureau of Land Management Director Sy Jamison have all carried the Republican pompons to Washington and Oregon.
The taxpayers picked up the bill for these campaign trips. Airfares run around $1,600 round trip (first class, of course), and there are daily expenses of about $100 per VIP, not to mention the fact that these Cabinet members, whose salaries break down to about $400 a day, don't do this stuff on their own time.
A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says this the GOP blitz reflects Bush's wishes. "He puts great value in doing this. They're tired of getting embarrassed in House races."
The most recent team player in the cross-country relay is Vice President Dan Quayle, who was to be the celebrity at a $250-a-plate breakfast in Seattle this week. The White House says Quayle has raised more money for the party than any vice president before him. It appears to be his most indisputable achievement.