I hope Obama has better luck coming to an approximate price tag than I have. I've noodled around to find some good guesses, though. A 2007 Congressional Research Service report estimated the cost per hour to operate the plane used as Air Force One as between $34,400 and $56,800, depending on whom you ask: the White House (at the time, the Bush one) or the Air Force. That price included the POTUS' entourage and security services, but since fuel and maintenance are a lion's share of the expense, it gives you a good ballpark idea, and it matches the $40,000 that Katie Couric estimates on her blog.
Try eight times higher, at least. ABC News reported that the Air Force estimated cost of the exercise was $328,835. I don't know how much I trust that number, given that it was added inside heads that are sure to roll soon. It's not yet clear if that figure includes the cost of the two F-16 fighter jets that escorted the jet. That figure also doesn't come close to calculating the dramatic plunge in productivity at all the offices where thousands of workers quickly evacuated their buildings, terrified they were being targeted again. Or of the cost incurred by the surge of calls to 911 for emergency response. We'll never know how much that self-inflicted terror cost us.
The Department of Defense's own defenders have claimed the flights were combined with a pre-scheduled training flight in order to save money.
This isn't the first time that a government has ripped off taxpayers in order to look good before the cameras. In 2001, Australian taxpayers savaged government ministers after its Air Force flew the castaways (including The View's Elisabeth Hasselbeck) of CBS' Survivor game show on a military transport plane to the outback. That flight cost the average Joe an estimated $150,000, and it, too, was defended with a claim that it qualified as training.
Couric and comic Jon Stewart alike suggested that new press photos could have been achieved for $700. That's the price for a copy of Photoshop.
I was in lower Manhattan on that day in 2001, and the cavalier attitude evidenced by the fly-by disgusts me, to put it mildly, but I find it perfectly representative of a general attitude, espoused by military profiteers entrenched in our government, about the untouchable status of the military. The military branches of our government have got to learn that they don't own the show anymore and they have to be subject to the same rules of prudence, common sense, and fiscal wisdom that the rest of us have to obey. Watching Manhattan residents scramble for safety, it became obvious that our government doesn't always seem to consider the very people it purports to protect. We need a new system of transparency and accountability.
I'm clipping coupons. So can the Department of Defense, particularly when it comes to blowing our money on what amounts to some glamour shots for an airplane.