Reporting from Davenport, Iowa — The president coming to your hometown is one thing. His arriving in a monstrous shimmering black bus is another.
The U.S. Secret Service's new $1.1 million bus has been almost as big a star as the president himself has been during his backroads tour of the upper Midwest. People point at it. Kids gape at it. And just about everyone is curious about it. It has even brooked comparisons to Darth Vader's helmet.
The bus--and there is another one like it that will eventually be used by the Republican presidential nominee--has been in the works for years.
In the past, the Secret Service has had to lease buses for presidential travel and then retrofit them to add security measures and enhanced communications capability. Then the buses would have to be stripped again-- "at great expense" White House spokesman Jay Carney noted--once they were no longer needed.
Obama's bus sports large, black impenetrable windows and flashing blue and red lights like a police cruiser. It has been impossible to miss, especially as it has roared down some of the two-lane highways that the president's party has used to reach the small towns where events along his three-day tour have been located. On Tuesday alone, the bus traveled 216 miles.
It's also attracted another kind of attention: Republicans can't stop bringing up the cost of the bus, making it sound like the vehicle is boondoggle on wheels. In the new age of austerity, a million-dollar-bus is an irresistible target. Not to mention that it was built in Canada, the New York Post reported, not the United States.
"Rolling through the Midwest in a brand new million-dollar taxpayer-funded tour bus, the president is holding town halls to rally his disaffected supporters in states crucial to his re-election," the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, said Tuesday.
Other conservatives were snarkier. Wrote Dana Loesch, a "tea party" activist and CNN contributor, on Twitter on Tuesday, "Nothing says 'Let's tour America and talk about jobs!' than a big, black, hearsemobile of doom."