Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Presidents and Disasters

Some have given President Barack Obama some grief for not going to the tornado scene in Joplin right away. He also got some mild push back for not going to Alabama until a number of days had passed. Those with memories will remember that President G.W.Bush got it six ways to Sunday about merely "flying over" New Orleans in the earliest days of recovery after hurricane Katrina. So, should the POTUS go to disaster areas? If so, when?

Now, I view this more from the point of the first responder. I could give a care about the "optics" of a situation. I think that President Bush was 100% right in his call to not go on the ground too soon after Katrina. I think President Obama hit just the right time in Alabama, after the majority, if not all, of rescue and recovery was completed, but before too much clean up had happened. He could do all of it: be a consoling presence, show leadership and get the really cool pictures in the rubble, without being disruptive to what was going on.

So here are my parameters: The visit must not complicate the lives of the fire service, EMS, or law enforcement at all. The president should be as "self contained" as possible--bringing as much of his own logistics as he can. Saving of life and property must always be the first priority; if a president's visit will slow that, it needs to wait. There are other ways to show that you care--videos, radio addresses, statements in speeches, etc. etc.--that can be used until a ground presence is not a major hindrance. People do appreciate the president coming by, I think that is true, but it must not take resources from the immediate task at hand.

We in Missouri will welcome Mr. Obama when he comes--currently scheduled for Sunday. It might be sooner if conditions in Missouri can tolerate it and the president has to return from Europe early due to the volcanic ash cloud's affects on air travel.

Addendum: I left this post and I was pretty satisfied with it. And then I wasn't. So I am adding this and modifying the last paragraph, which had suffered from an invasion of partisan snark. Because I am not going to pick at any president politically for how he handles going into disaster sites. Or not going, as the case may be. People who pick at this topic are incredibly inconsistent: Republicans defend Bush for not rushing to New Orleans, yet rake Obama over the coals for not going to Missouri. I am thinking you are better off sticking to general principles, and judging according to those principles, applying criticism evenly, regardless of political labels. Using disasters for political gain is incredibly distasteful to me. It is not a time to trot out nasty partisan politics--it is a time to pull together and help those who need help, both now and in the long term.


Radioman KC said...

well put. I agree completely about the POTUS holding off for a little while but when appropriate, it's good he uses his prestige to call attention to the fact that the disasters arent over after 36 hours.

The Observer said...

Yes, I definitely think the POTUS has a reason to grace disaster sites--after all the life saving work is done.

I would never criticize a president for tarrying before his visit to insure that it was not a disruption to rescue efforts--regardless of whether or not I voted for him!

Thanks for commenting and enjoy our lovely Midwestern spring weather!

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
Thank you for a very cogent post. I agree wholeheartedly that a principles-based, non-invasive visit is best. However, I hadn't done the thinking necessary to elucidate it!

You have done that for me. It eases my mind to know there is a non-partisan, rational approach to this.

They should also extend this to the "fact-finding missions" in war zones. IMHO.

Thanks, for the excellent recap!
Ann T.

Bob G. said...

I also agree, and many times, it's both parties that wind up "at fault", so it's totally non-partisan for me.

With Katrina, you really could NOT get on the ground (not with all that water about), so I can understand Bush's predicament.
In that case, problems with evac and such began at the LOCAL level (all those school buses that were NOT used and eventually flooded beyond use), and then filtered UPWARD.

Still makes me unfomfortable when our leader is "globe-trotting" while this nation is suffering.
A "friendly face" (the POTUS) can go a LONG way to help out many times.
Lincoln (more than once) went out to meet his generals (pretty dangerous stuff at the time), and that was in a time OF WAR.

Good post and comments.

Stay safe out there.

Mo Rage said...

As said repeatedly above, good, calm, intelligent post.

What kills me about so many complainers on this president right now is that they're saying he's off "globetrotting while the nation is suffering."

The fact is, this visit to Europe was planned at least, likely, a year ago and is coinciding with a larger meeting. The storms, of course, just blew in, literally, and occurred. For people to claim he's off "globetrotting" as some form of complaint is at least weak, if not just silly, in this case and at this time. He'll be here, as you pointed out. He couldn't drop everything and get here for this and, as you said, he'd just be in the way at this time. If it were a 9/11 event, you can bet any president would drop everything and return but this is certainly, thank goodness, not that.

The Observer said...

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

I have come up with a new philosophy concerning these type of "optic" critical statements: Change the roles and see how it feels. So, for example, if a person I voted for writes "24 May 2008" in the visitor's book, what do I think of that? Then apply the same standard to the person I did not vote for.

Rather changes things, doesn't it?

We are not talking about disagreements over big issues here--but it we can't see past this little sh*t, how in the world can we talk reasonably about the big stuff?

Thanks for coming by everyone, and for commenting.

The Observer

locomotivebreath1901 said...

A nice post, but I think you're being far too generous towards our "I,I,Me,Me" President.

Although, we do agree on the main point: whether it's Bush or Obama, there's no sense for a POTUS to rush into a disaster area.

I mean, what's the point?

Will the President do triage? Dig rubble, or man the kitchen?

As for the Joplin tragedy, the Missouri Highway Patrol issued a statement the other day urging sightseers to stay away.

"Every news station is streaming this live and on the internet. If you want to watch and see the destruction, watch it on TV."

In short, when local conditions equal a war zone, and a POTUS appearance - by definition - creates huge disruptions and a drain on local resources, what good will it do for those suffering a horrid trauma to have the POTUS score face time in front of a TV camera?

It's why God made state governors.

The Observer said...


Yes, I do think Barack Obama is a bit focused on "I"--I think it is one of his flaws--he gets in his own way admiring his work. Is his excessive, beyond the measure that seems to be needed to want to be POTUS? Good question.

So I am glad he doesn't appear in Joplin until Sunday. My understanding is that KCPD is going to do a lot of the local security--they are quite experienced at it with the visits here.

thanks for commenting.

The Observer