Politics and the bus
It’s a long and storied relationship between buses and politics.
Back in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person and it kicked off a boycott that lasted more than a year. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled that segregation on the bus system was unconstitutional and the rest, as they say, is history.
Throwing people under the bus is a time-honored political metaphor and there is almost always some of that going on.
Anyway, what got me thinking about this is that I noticed that Congressman Sean Duffy’s “mobile office” has gone a bit more anonymous lately. When it was originally rolled out, it featured his name and a House of Representatives seal displayed prominently on the side. Here’s a picture.
Now, the name and the congressional seal are gone. Of course, it’s still got the fancy paint job, which was something that I found kind of odd when I first saw it. Government vehicles tend to be rather generic looking and exclusive of any kind of ornamentation. This one is festooned with a scene of the U.S. Capitol, red white and blue flaggy-type stuff, etc. Take a look at the nameless version.
I’m not sure how I feel about this kind of thing. Duffy is a Member of Congress and so there is no point in trying to hide it. He holds the office to represent the people. On the other hand, I’m not sure if the taxpayers should be footing the bill for a traveling billboard. It might be fine if the campaign was doing that – and maybe that’s what is happening.
Still, how does one allocate the “official business” part from the campaigning part? The rollout announcement made no bones about this being a constituent service effort. If there is a crossover between campaigning and official business, it seems like one function or the other has to be getting a free ride, at least part of the time. It also opens the door for a lot of ambiguity about role and function — not just for the vehicle, but for the people riding around in it (for which there seems to be a lot more capacity than would normally ever be necessary.) I’m not sure where the idea for this thing came from, but if you like the motif, here’s an Americans for Prosperity van — a right-wing Koch-sponsored group headed by former Duffy staffer Matt Seaholm. (Appropriately, it’s a Mercedes.)
For whatever it’s worth, Duffy’s bus still has a “Dealer” plate on it – not “U.S. Government.” We’ll see how that ends up.
Duffy’s spokesperson at the time of the rollout pointed out that the lease of $1,350 per month was less than the cost of establishing a permanent office somewhere. Beyond the fact that the lease is only part of the cost – a vehicle of this type gets 9 to11 miles per gallon, for example — was that really the choice? Ever wonder why we phased out bookmobiles? Does anyone think that a vehicle of this sort would have been chosen as the most efficient way to get the job done if the traveling murals were prohibited?
What makes sense is to skip the dedicated tour bus with its custom paint job (or screen printed wrapper.) Hold office hours at town halls, public libraries, county offices or wherever – neutral, public facilities that feature handy things like restrooms, broadband access, places for conversations about personal situations without evacuating your bus and climate control that you don’t have to idle your engine to make work. Drive between these stops in something that gets decent gas mileage. Choosing a least-cost option is consistent with being a deficit hawk and voting for stuff like Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan (or just being cost-conscious, in general.) In the meantime, this choice gives a whole new meaning to the “Roll with Sean” campaign slogan.