In politics, optics are everything. If you want to win the game, you have to also be concerned with your image and how Americans view you. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way the game is played.
Just look at how the media and Democratic Party establishment excoriated President Bush back when Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana 11 years ago. Kanye West echoed many people’s sentiments when he accused Bush of not caring about black people. Even then-Senator Barack Obama ripped Bush for his “unconscionable ineptitude.”
Bush’s Air Force One flyover of the area was equally despised as it was seen as a symbol of Republican apathy and neglect in the face of disaster-stricken minorities. People were outraged that Bush didn’t interrupt his vacation immediately after the hurricane hit to fly to Washington, D.C. Instead, he waited a little over… 24 hours.
The truth of the matter is that it wouldn’t have mattered what Bush did in response to the natural disaster. If he had gone above and beyond in helping the people there and had come there immediately, people would have accused him of posturing and doing it only for a photo-op. You can’t win with some people.
The same region in Louisiana that was affected by Katrina was recently devastated by floods which have claimed at least 13 lives and have displaced thousands of others. But Obama’s on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, and Hillary’s health requires weekend breaks – we all know how she gets when she doesn’t get her beauty sleep. Neither can be bothered by some local flooding story in Louisiana.
Hillary did send out this tweet:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 16, 2016
An editorial in Baton Rouge’s local paper The Advocate noticed the political inconsistency:
Now that the flood waters ravaging Louisiana are receding, it’s time for President Barack Obama to visit the most anguished state in the union.
Last week, as torrential rains brought death, destruction and misery to Louisiana, the president continued his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, a playground for the posh and well-connected.
We’ve seen this story before in Louisiana, and we don’t deserve a sequel. In 2005, a fly-over by a vacationing President George W. Bush became a symbol of official neglect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The current president was among those making political hay out of Bush’s aloofness.
And if the president can interrupt his vacation for a swanky fundraiser for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, as he did on Monday, then surely he can make time to show up for a catastrophe that’s displaced thousands.
The optics of Obama golfing while Louisiana residents languished in floodwaters was striking. It evoked the precedent of the passive federal response to the state’s agony in 2005, a chapter of history no one should ever repeat.
But Trump is there to visit and to survey the damage. His running mate Mike Pence flew out ahead of the Republican nominee to meet with top Republican officials. The Associated Press reported:
In East Baton Rouge Parish, Friday, Trump’s motorcade drove through hard-hit communities, where ripped up carpet and flooring, furniture and the entire contents of homes were piled on the curb. People who were still mucking out their homes, in some instances, came out to wave at the motorcade with gloved hands dirty from their house-gutting work. He and Pence then met a group of volunteers at a Baptist church who have been cooking meals for flood victims and helping the elderly gut their homes.
The Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards doesn’t want anything to do with the visit. He’s predictably accusing Trump of posing for a photo-op.
On top of that, Governor Edwards also defended the Obama administration’s lack of presence, saying that such a visit from the President would tie up local police and first responders to provide security. (Can you imagine if Bush had used that excuse?)
I actually don’t think that dealing with floods and hurricanes is something that should be the responsibility of the Executive Branch or even the federal government at all. Local communities and volunteers from around the country do a lot better job of cleaning up and caring for victims than when the federal government steps in to “help out” with taxpayer money. Then, a natural disaster just becomes a manmade one.
And I don’t think it’s necessary for the President to always visit disaster-stricken areas. There’s no problem with visiting if they want to, but it seems only certain natural disasters need to be visited.
Think about the wildfires in California that have caused so much damage and have also displaced thousands of people whose homes have been destroyed. Why is it that that’s not something that needs to be visited by the President, but a Louisiana flood is? Is it that if the victims of the disaster are predominately white, then it doesn’t matter? And if they’re predominately black, then it does matter, and it needs the attention of the President?