- - Monday, October 3, 2011

Finally, the “most transparent White House ever” is living up to its claim, and it’s just plain embarrassing for us all. When Barack Obama promised transparency, most of America thought he meant disclosing donations, broadcasting meetings, limiting lobbyists and generally opening the government to Americans. But this? Sigh.

Until now, despite the promises, the Obama administration has been anything but transparent. In budget year 2009, federal agencies cited exemptions to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests 466,872 times, compared to the 312,683 exemptions cited by former President George W. Bush’s administration in his final year. This nearly 50 percent increase in refusals occurred even though there was a decrease in actual information requests. So much for open government.

The most memorable - and consequential - event of the less-than-transparent White House was the occasion when President Obama broke eight separate promises to televise Obamacare hearings on C-SPAN. But, to be fair to the White House, not all secrets were so serious and detrimental. Sometimes, in fact, the jokes wrote themselves, like when the Associated Press waited months to receive information about the White House’s Open Government Directive. Heh. But the most comical and outright Orwellian of all was the time when the president received a transparency award from the Freedom of Information Day Conference - in private - far from prying eyes.

First lady Michelle Obama has come to the rescue.

Finally, the White House has decided to be transparent - and embarrassingly so. The first lady officially announced her husband’s kickoff of the 2012 election with a thinly veiled photo-op trip to a local Target discount store.

It’s not clear if Mrs. Obama took her own taxpayer-funded private jet to the store or perhaps three jets to accommodate her entourage, as she did for her European vacation. Sources are unclear how often she frequents the Target stores at her usual getaways to places such as Vail, Hawaii or Martha’s Vineyard or whether she wears her $42,000 diamond bracelets while clipping coupons.

The same woman who couldn’t find anything about America that made her proud until her husband was nominated to run for president is now the proud bargain shopper. The same woman who acknowledged that “my scores weren’t high enough” to be admitted to Princeton but still was somehow given a spot and later raked in a cool $200,000 raise as a “diversity consultant” - coincidentally just as her husband was rising in national prominence - is suddenly just one of us commoners. Who knew?

Seriously, whom does the White House think it will win over or even placate with its newly released photos of the jet-set first lady donning a ball cap and pushing her own shopping cart around the discount store? How dumb must it think Americans are? What’s next? Schlepping the kids around in a minivan?

We all expect politicians to pander to the great unwashed masses, but this is just embarrassing. The photograph deserves its own wing in the Bad Political Photo-ops Hall of Fame. This is John-Kerry-crawling-on-all-fours-in-his-hoodie-spaceman-costume embarrassing. It’s Michael-Dukakis-bouncing-around-in-a-tank-with-an-oversized-helmet embarrassing. It’s Barack-Obama- bowling-a-37 embarrassing.

Of course, this isn’t the first photo-op disaster for the first lady. Who can forget the priceless image of Michelle Obama smiling gaily while being photographed by a downtrodden patron at a homeless soup kitchen with his $500 Blackberry smartphone? Well, maybe it wasn’t entirely priceless. After all, she was sporting her $540 Lanvin sneakers at the time.

Even White House insiders have had enough of the first lady’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” routine. Anonymous administration informants claim she spent $10 million of taxpayer money with her luxurious jet-setting ways in the past year alone - $50,000-a-week rental homes, “martinis with top-shelf vodka” and “rich sparking wines.” His and hers private jets to Martha’s Vineyard to squeeze a few extra hours of vacation time. Commandeering Air Force One for a New York City date night.

In French lore, Marie Antoinette legendarily proclaimed, “Let them eat cake” when she saw all those commoners in the streets who lacked food. Perhaps one day, future generations will similarly quote Michelle Obama who, one could imagine, upon seeing all those discount-store commoners lacking their own private jets, might exclaim, “Let them fly first-class.”

So the administration should be congratulated for its newly found transparency. When the Babylonian first lady is bearing her own bargain bags, this White House is clearly announcing that its re-election campaign has officially begun. Obama operatives also show their transparent contempt for hardworking men and women who fund the first lady’s luxuriant lifestyle and who depend on those discount stores, not for photo-ops but to actually make ends meet.

Or could it be that I’m wrong? Maybe this is not an election ploy after all. Perhaps, just maybe, Michelle has gone and done it. Maybe, by God, she’s finally burned through the rest of what little remained in the Treasury of the taxpayers’ money and now she’s forced to spend her own for a change. Michelle, you’re right on Target.

Dr. Milton R. Wolf, a Washington Times columnist, is President Obama’s cousin. He blogs at MiltonWolf.com.

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