US blogger Mark Steyn often writes about how the US presidency has become more and more imperial in its affectations - the 40-car motorcades, the clearing of entire golf courses so the US president can play a round, and how the current president requires over 4,000 hotel rooms for his entourage when he travels to Australia.
I experienced some of this excess when I was in Cambodia recently. My trip to the South-east Asia nation happened to coincide with the US First Lady's visit, during which she demonstrated that she can blow the US taxpayers' dollars at a rate that is every bit as impressive as her husband's self-indulgence. It seemed that Michelle Obama was determined to dog our every step during the few days we were in Cambodia. Our aircraft was late arriving in Siem Reap because, we were informed, Michelle Obama's aircraft was ahead of ours. Then we discovered whole sections of Siem Reap were barricaded off, necessitating a slow and circuitous route wherever we went.
The next day when we visited Angkor Wat we were informed that we could not climb to the top of that magnificent structure because (yes, you guessed it) Michelle Obama was planning to visit some time that day. This was in the morning and no one seemed to know at what hour the US First Lady would actually arrive, but someone (presumably the US Secret Service) had decided it was necessary to close the entire historic site on the off-chance that she might turn up at any time. It was only when I complained loudly that the embarrassed Cambodian officials relented and allowed my wife and I to climb the structure and we were the last allowed to do so. The next day we flew to Phnom Penh and our aircraft was delayed again as the entire airport waited for Her Royal Highness Michelle's airplane to depart. Contrast this pretentious, monarchical spectacle with the genuine article - the heir to the British throne, Prince William, humbly flying 'coach'.
Here in New Zealand, where we can still run into our politicians walking unaccompanied along Lambton Quay (the main shopping thoroughfare of Wellington), we think there is something very unsavoury about elected leaders affecting all the pretensions of imperial rule. Of course leaders need to be kept safe, but that can be done without the theatre that accompanies the US president and his court whenever one of them ventures out into the world.