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White House Tours Remain The Only Sequestration Casualty Anyone Cares About

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Life isn’t easy. It’s filled with many inconveniences. The train doesn’t run on time. You shelled out a few hundred bucks to see a Broadway show and you got the understudy. There’s raay-ayy-ayyn, on your wedding day. Bummer, dude. I feel for you.

Of course, life is also filled with what I would call “problems.” You get furloughed from your job at a time when money’s tight. You lose the housing assistance that’s helping keep you and your family in your apartment when you’re unemployed. It’s real pain that forces some harrowing choices.

So, where on the inconvenience-to-problem spectrum would you put “a bunch of White House tours have been canceled"? Well, the media has decided it’s the most dire crisis the country is facing, during this time of sequestration.

The White House tours situation is the one-day story that ate the world. Aggrieved members of Congress, bereft of one of their go-to options to keep cronies and constituents happy, have inflamed the Beltway media into a cyclical bout of elite whinging. The White House press corps buffeted Jay Carney with eight questions about the tours at his March 13 briefing.

Keep in mind that all members of the White House press corps are ostensibly real-live human beings with free will and the tacit permission to ask Carney just about any question they want in the world. Also keep in mind that it’s long been established that the reason the tours were canceled indefinitely is because it’s keeping the Secret Service from having to furlough more employees during sequestration than they would have otherwise been required to.

In a perfect world, we could have a fully staffed Secret Service and White House tours. But given the choice between making tourists in Washington participate in any one of thousands of alternative local attractions and entertainments, and furloughing the people who support the best security force in the history of the Western World, what would you choose to do? Surprisingly, the answer is somehow not as obvious to Beltway reporters as it should be.

In a twist that I can only describe as deeply strange, the press has decided that pursuing the White House tours story is something approaching journalistic heroism. The galactically useless Washington Post editorial board says that the coverage of this piddling event in the lives of Beltway elites has earned the White House a “proper comeuppance” for sequestration “hostage taking,” the idea being that the shrewd reporters of Washington have seen through President Barack Obama’s attempts to manufacture pain through automatic spending cuts and -- by golly! -- they are not falling for it.

All of which would be really neat-o, if it weren’t for the fact that sequestration is causing normal human Americans actual, tangible, life-altering pain. Beyond this cloistered Capitol Hill redoubt, local news teams have picked up on these stories. We have, ourselves, endeavored to hand the reporters who cover the White House a litany of scoops about the effects sequestration is already having. If the goal here is simply to give the Obama administration a “comeuppance” for “bureaucratic hostage taking,” then I daresay there’s plenty of examples of furloughed employees and airport closures and canceled tuition assistance and forestalled corruption trial work that will help in that effort. And unlike the White House tours story, coverage of these stories would actually have some measure of journalistic merit.

The argument for covering the White House tours non-story in this all-in, claws-out approach is that it catches the Obama administration out in a gamble, that’s now been ferreted out by Beltway reporters. And really, that’s terrific. Bully for them. Gold stars all around. You guys found yourself a real live political stunt.

But I’ve got news for you guys! The sequestration itself is a political stunt. The super committee was a political stunt. The Simpson-Bowles commission was a political stunt. The round of debt ceiling hostage taking that put us on the path to the sequestration in the first place was a political stunt. Heck, the entire frenzy over deficit “grand bargaining” at a time when we are experiencing mortal peril in the form of a massive unemployment crisis is, itself, a political stunt.

And the hilarious thing about the cancellation of the White House tours is that maybe the gamble worked. I can’t say whether it was an administration priority to engineer a sequestration-related inconvenience that would demonstrate that the hopelessly cosseted Washington media was incapable of evincing any concern beyond the purely parochial. But if that was the intention, then mission accomplished.

If there’s good news, it’s that your Congresscritters, having gotten what mileage they can out of the White House tours story, have now taken to NIMBY-ish whinging about how the sequestration is affecting life in their districts, and the trajectory of the story is finally headed into the world of real problems. Perhaps the White House press corps will now graduate to adult concerns, like the thousands of hard-working Americans who will lose their housing assistance.

But fulsome coverage of White House tours is perhaps the best you can expect from these tourists.

This story appears in Issue 41 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, March 22.

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