You might be tired of hearing it, but you’re gonna hear it from me again: we are dealing with a staggeringly large human tragedy here in south Louisiana.
Let’s check in to see what our top political leaders are saying and doing about it, shall we? USA Today notices that neither campaign has said much of anything about the Louisiana catastrophe — this, five days after the flooding began. Here are some details from my searching.
Since Friday, when the flooding began, Hillary Clinton has said nothing publicly about the disaster. She has tweeted or retweeted 84 tweets (as of this writing). She has written exactly one addressing the situation in Louisiana:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 16, 2016
Hillary devoted three times that number of tweets to congratulating US women athletes at the Rio games. Hey, I have no problem with celebrating their victories. But let’s see: over 100,000 people have lost their homes in Louisiana. More than half of them are women, it stands to reason. This is not a secret. If you want to win the attention of the Democratic nominee for president, it’s much better to be a woman athlete than a Louisiana woman made homeless by the flooding, it would appear.
By the way, she devoted seven tweets directly or indirectly to immigration. It wouldn’t be fair to say that immigrants matter to Hillary seven times more than her own countrymen who have lost everything in the floods, would it? Maybe not. But I will say that Mrs. Clinton has an interesting set of priorities.
Let’s check out Donald Trump’s statements in the same period of time. He’s said nothing to the media. On Twitter, where he is famously logorrheic, he has sent out 35 tweets since Friday. Number of tweets that mention the Louisiana disaster: zero. Number of tweets that gripe about media bias: ten.
Well, what about the President of the United States, which, last I checked, still included Louisiana? Since last Friday, Barack Obama’s office has put out 14 tweets in his name. What were they about:
Climate change: 2
Judge Merrick Garland: 5
DREAM Act (for immigrants): 1
Paid family leave: 1
Vehicle emission standards: 2
Gun violence: 3
Louisiana floods: 0
To his credit, the president has released disaster aid to Louisiana, and has sent the FEMA chief down. But he is not interrupting his vacation on fancy Martha’s Vineyard to come give comfort and show compassion to his own countrymen who are in extreme pain.
Despite George W. Bush’s folly on Katrina, which left a permanent mark on his legacy, Obama remains on vacation, just as Bush did. Here’s how things went down with Bush back in 2005, according to a 2015 retrospective in US News & World Report:
Americans across the country were shocked by the television images they saw in Katrina’s immediate aftermath. People stood on rooftops waving their arms and pleading for help as the flood waters inundated their communities. Desperate folks in the Superdome appeared in heartbreaking TV interviews begging for aid in their time of need. Making matters worse was that 67 percent of New Orleans was African American and 30 percent of the residents were poor, creating the impression that the government was insensitive and neglectful of minorities and the less fortunate.
While all this was going on, the president of the United States remained aloof from the disaster. Day after day, George W. Bush continued a long-planned vacation at his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas, and his staff didn’t want to burden him with detailed information about the situation on the Gulf Coast. When Katrina made landfall, Bush had been on holiday at his ranch for 27 days, according to a tabulation kept by CBS News.
As the hurricane grew into a catastrophe, and as the nation watched the TV coverage in horror, Bush’s aides decided they had to inform the president about it in stark terms. One of his aides put together a video showing scenes of hurricane-ravaged communities and showed it to the president. At this point, Bush decided he should cut his vacation short and return home two days early to preside over the federal response from Washington. He flew back to Washington on August 31, after 29 days at his ranch.
On the way back, he had Air Force One fly over part of the devastated area and he glimpsed the wreckage from the plane. White House officials allowed news photographers to take photos of a grim-faced Bush looking out an Air Force One window but the PR gambit backfired. Many Americans saw the photo, which was widely disseminated, as evidence that Bush was too distant from the misery below. In a 2010 interview with NBC, Bush conceded that allowing the photo to be taken was a “huge mistake” because it made him seem “detached and uncaring.”
Bush declined to visit the devastated area right away. White House aides said at the time that Bush didn’t want to cause disruptions in rescue and recovery efforts by diverting security and communications to himself. But Bush allies privately conceded that he could have quickly visited somewhere along the Gulf Coast with minimal disruption, perhaps a staging site, to show solidarity with victims of the hurricane and the first responders. His supporters said later that his slow reaction and the weak federal, state and local response to the hurricane undermined Bush’s reputation for being an effective crisis manager and a decisive leader. And his reputation never improved even though he later made repeated visits to the hurricane zone and steered billions of federal dollars into recovery programs.
“He never recovered from Katrina,” says a former Bush adviser and Republican strategist who wants to remain anonymous to avoid offending the Bush family. “The unfolding disaster with the Iraq war [a conflict which Bush ordered] didn’t help, but it’s clear that after Katrina he never got back the popularity that he had.” Referring to Bush’s decision to fly over the ravaged areas and allow photos to be taken of him peering out the window, the former adviser added: “He’s rued that decision ever since.”
Well, Obama can plausibly claim that the media haven’t been reporting on the 2016 Louisiana disaster like it did on Katrina, but really, is that any excuse? Does the President of the United States really depend on the national media to tell him when part of the nation he governs has been devastated in a rolling catastrophe? According to an August 16 Associated Press report, here’s what America’s president has been doing while Louisiana drowns:
President Barack Obama did something unusual during his summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard: He went out on the town four nights in a row.
After a better part of a decade of using this breezy Massachusetts island as a low-key, quiet summer retreat, Obama has picked up the pace this year. In his final summer vacation as president, Obama has spent almost every night of his escape painting its towns red — so to speak.
The stunner came late Sunday when the president assembled his security and press entourage to go out at nearly 11 p.m. It was a move all but impossible to imagine happening in Washington, where Obama’s occasional social outings tend to begin much earlier.
And people in Washington wonder why so many Americans have lost faith in our political leaders and institutions. These contemptible people.
UPDATE: Well, well, well, what a difference not running for election makes, or maybe not being from the South. In October 2012, two days after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and environs, President Obama was on the ground there, offering aid and comfort to its victims. The Guardian reported on his visit:
It is the image that could end up being seen as the defining moment of the the 2012 White House race. Television cameras showed Barack Obama, aboard the presidential helicopter Marine One, flying over the Jersey shore, seeing at first hand the devastation left by superstorm Sandy.
Over a thousand miles away, his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was back on the campaign trail in Florida, trying to balance his desire to make up for time lost while trying to avoid accusations of a premature return.
The television networks picked up on the contrast, splitting their screens to show one in presidential mode, seemingly above politics, and the other back on the stump, making partisan points in a time of crisis.
The news channels stayed with Obama almost throughout the day as he witnessed the destruction and talked with officials and victims, offering sympathy and promising help.
The American Red Cross has been calling what’s happening in Louisiana the nation’s worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy. It has been five days since we began to grasp the magnitude of the destruction and the suffering here. Where’s the American president? Still playing golf on vacation.
This year, he’s not running for re-election. And that, my dears, is the difference. Suffering Americans left homeless by a massive storm aren’t politically useful to our president this year.
Don’t forget this.