Costly compliment: A campus closes to give Obama a political prop

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President Barack Obama looks at Pittsburgh and sees a phoenix rising out of the fire and ash of its own destruction — the collapse of the steel industry three decades ago. In his numerous visits, he has taken Pittsburgh’s revival as his text for a new economic future.

He brought the G-20 summit here in 2009, toured Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center in 2011 and spoke at U.S. Steel’s Irvin plant in West Mifflin in January. On Wednesday, he came with Vice President Joe Biden to visit the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in North Fayette.

The theme this time was what Mr. Obama called the “outstanding model” that CCAC provides in job-training programs linked to industry needs. Mr. Obama touted the alignment of jobs and training in his State of the Union address and has asked the Department of Labor to refocus an existing $500 million grant program on community colleges that do this and add another $100 million to the effort.

It’s nice that the president has noticed Pittsburgh’s revival. It’s welcome that CCAC’s good efforts have been recognized. It’s all good except the part that isn’t.

At the risk of appearing churlish, we note that the visit of Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden wasn’t for the purpose of persuading Congress to act, which might have made sense; the funds already exist and the president is using his authority to bypass the gridlock.

In short, his visit was a grand publicity stunt. Moreover, while job training is a good idea and will help some, it is not a panacea. As a Post-Gazette story observed, there are not enough jobs in this economy for everyone who is trained.

Ironically, the job training classes and all other courses on campus were cancelled for the day and the event was by invitation only. Fliers on campus advised other students to stay away. For their little road trip, the president and vice president flew in on separate aircraft, Air Force One and Air Force Two, the former being a variant of the Boeing 747. Then they joined a 34-vehicle motorcade.

The cost of this visit would have funded a lot of job training.

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