First rule of Obama transparency: If it's a holiday, it's time for a White House document dump. Over the Independence Day weekend, the administration released its 2011 annual report to Congress on White House staff salaries. While economic data for the rest of America remains bleak, the financial outlook for Obama flacks looks rosier than the president's complexion after his latest round of golf.
In total, President Obama's 454 employees at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. will rake in $37 million. That's up $4 million from the income of George W. Bush's staff in 2008, back when the unemployment rate was three points lower, the federal government workforce was 12 percent smaller and the massive deficit was still measured in hundreds of billions, not trillions. One in three of Obama's employees makes more than $100,000 a year.
Of particular interest to me are the high-paid Obama aides assigned to the apparently vital task of "engagement" - that is, politicking, pandering and partisan cajoling - on the taxpayers' dime.
I found at least 17 staffers listed in the report with titles referencing the "Office of Public Engagement" (OPE) or "online engagement" (otherwise known as liberal blog hand-holding and crisis management). These "engagers" are among the top earners in the White House. Fourteen of the 17 earn $50,000 or more. Chicago crony Valerie Jarrett, the White House senior adviser who oversees OPE, receives a salary of $172,200 a year. Michael Strautmanis, deputy assistant to the president and counselor to the senior adviser for strategic engagement, earns $150,000. Nathanael Tamarin, a special assistant to the president for public engagement, makes $96,900 a year.
The director of OPE, Jon Carson, pulls in $153,000 annually. Carson's deputy, Brian Bond, boasts a $93,840 yearly salary. OPE deputy directors Greg Nelson and Anne Filipic earn $92,000.
What, exactly, are all these minions paid to do? OPE describes itself as "allow(ing) the views of the ordinary American citizen to be more readily heard within the administration" and coordinating "events that bring members of the administration in contact with members of the public."
In reality, it's another publicly subsidized Obama spin operation by a different name.
The murky office of public engagement was refashioned by Jarrett from the former Office of Public Liaison to do things like push the costly, failed 2016 Olympics bid by her old friend and employer, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
It's also the office that was entangled in the rabidly partisan effort to push the progressive agenda through the taxpayer-supported National Endowment of the Arts.
As I've noted before, conservative film producer and BigHollywood.com contributor Patrick Courrielche first blew the whistle in 2009 when the NEA and OPE gathered 75 artists, musicians, writers and poets on a conference call to exhort them to create propaganda art supporting Obama's domestic policy agenda. The engagement operatives plied "counter-narratives" to the arts community to combat GOP health care critics and anti-illegal alien amnesty activists.
Actor Kalpen Modi, an "associate director of public engagement," has been dispatched to various "youth roundtables" and Soros confabs on Obama's behalf.
More recently, the well-compensated "engagers" have been busy organizing town hall cheerleading sections for Obama across the country and online to bolster his base, galvanize "community leaders" and appease the commander in chief's left flank. Last Wednesday, in an effort to "double down" on their "online engagement efforts," as an administration aide told The New York Times, Obama participated in a "Twitter Town Hall."
As always, however, this administration's problem is that it hears but doesn't listen. It makes lavishly funded gestures toward engagement while remaining divorced from economic and political reality. The core failure of Team Obama is not a failure to communicate, but a failure to comprehend.