Air Force One and the Incumbent Advantage

In the May 5th edition of The Economist, the Lexington column topic of the day was the incumbent advantage that comes with the US presidency. One of the items under discussion was the use of Air Force One as a flying version of the whistle-stop tour trains of old. From the column:

The use and abuse of the big Boeing is a subject of perennial contention during election campaigns. In theory the president is entitled to use it at taxpayers' expense only when he is on official business. His campaign is required to reimburse the government for whatever portion of a trip is devoted to electioneering.

Recent visits to college campuses full of fans were cited as very gray-area situations. Since the column was written, another might be a certain visit to California, while some might even consider Obama's recent 'super secret' trip to Afghanistan more for the benefit of fence-sitting voters than troop morale. Of course the author goes on to wish luck to any lawyer who thinks he might be able to tease out a gotcha moment when traveling by AF1 is seen as de rigueur in terms of presidential safety. And Americans surely wouldn't advocate for a no campaigning rule; otherwise what would we watch on TV for 24 hours a day?

Therefore, it seems likely that incumbents will just continue to have this built-in advantage. As the use of the presidential jet is an advantage taken by presidents of both parties, there is at least no bias...taxpayers seem likely to foot the bill no matter who is in power.

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