Buying The President’s Books

Sometimes it is the little stories that are the most instructive.  I think that may be the case with the story about the State Department, through various U.S. embassies, spending more than $60,000 on books authored by  President Obama.

According to a federal database, the American embassy in Paris spent more than $8,300 on Dreams From My Father in French.  Embassies in Indonesia, Turkey, and South Korea made similar purchases.  The embassy in Egypt led the way, spending a whopping $37,000 on copies of Dreams From My Father.  According to a State Department spokesman, diplomats “often use books to engage key audiences in discussions of foreign policy” and he notes that “[t]he structure and the presidency of the United States is an integral component of representing the United States overseas.”  He says the books stock “information resource centers” that are located around the world and include books about U.S. culture, history and values, and that the State Department also provides “key library collections with books about the United States.”

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  I’m not suggesting the President had anything to do with this — I think it’s an example of bureaucrats using discretionary spending to curry favor with their political appointee bosses.  Could it really be true that Americans conduct diplomacy by handing foreign counterparts The Audacity Of Hope and asking them to read through chapter 12 before tomorrow’s meeting?  If so, that may explain some of our recent foreign policy problems.  And has anyone looked lately at the value of maintaining a worldwide network of “information resource centers” stocked with hard copy books?  If we’re spending so much on President Obama’s biographies, the “information resource centers” must be enormous — unless those books are the only ones that have been found to reflect the American viewpoint on culture, history, and values.  How often are the “resource centers” used?  Wouldn’t a more diverse, more cost-effective “information resource” be a computer terminal with internet access?

I recognize that $60,000 is just a tiny molecule of water in the great, slopping, steaming ocean that is the federal budget — but every journey begins with a single step.  Programs that permit the purchase of thousands of dollars of the President’s books are programs that can be cut.

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