What's generating the biggest buzz on President Obama's current trip through the Midwest?
The massive armored black vehicle, code-named "Stagecoach," features blinking blue and red lights, tinted windows, and apparently a posh interior, and is accompanied by dozens of security and staff vehicles in a huge motorcade. Those who see it are awed, and they should be. The bus cost $1.1 million, according to government sources, and it contains all sorts of elaborate security and communications systems that the Secret Service acknowledges but won't describe in any detail. Nor will government officials describe the amenities aboard. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.]
It turns out that the Secret Service recently bought two of the buses—for a total of $2.2 million—from Hemphill Brothers Co. of Nashville, Tenn., which has also built buses for entertainers Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Madonna. The decision was made to purchase them rather than continue to retrofit leased buses for the temporary use of the president and other high-level protectees. That costs tens of thousands of dollars, and then the special features have to be removed when the bus is returned to the leasing company. Federal numbers crunchers figured it would be cheaper over the long run to buy the vehicles.
The new buses are in addition to other specialized forms of transportation for the president, including Air Force One, the plane the president rides on; Marine One, his helicopter, and "the Beast," the nickname for his armored Cadillac limousine. The buses are to be used not only by the president but also by the first lady, vice president, and the eventual Republican presidential nominee next year when that candidate qualifies for Secret Service protection. [See photos of Bachmann on the campaign trail.]
But there is a PR problem. One wonders how much Obama or anyone else can convey a down-to-earth image when they tool around in a glitzy million-dollar vehicle.