2005: President George W. Bush’s presidency is basically declared over after he waits two days to cut a vacation short to return to the White House to directly engage in relief strategy around hurricane-ravaged Katrina. On Day 3, he would visit the Gulf Coast to survey the damage.
The headlines at the time and since have included, A compassionate Bush was absent right after Katrina, The 7 worst moments of George W. Bush’s presidency, Kanye West Rips Bush at Telethon, What If They Were White?, Jesse Jackson lashes out at Bush over Katrina response, Katrina thrusts race and poverty onto national stage: Bush and Congress under pressure to act
and An Imperfect Storm – How race shaped Bush’s response to Katrina.
So it’s clear how the narrative went from “Bush waited three days to visit the Gulf Coast” to “Bush is a racist who would have acted faster if white people were victims of Katrina.”
Why? Because Kanye West said so.
Fast forward to August 2016 — several storms hit Louisiana, not just a hurricane — the floodwaters have created the biggest natural disaster to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina.
At least 13 people are dead, more than 85,000 people have applied for federal disaster aid, 30,000 people needed to be rescued and 40,000 displaced. State officials report it is easily the biggest housing crunch since Sandy.
In Livingston Parish, officials report as many as 75 percent of the 52,000 homes there had been damaged by floodwaters. In Ascension Parish, water had seeped into one of every three homes.
“We’ve been through Hurricane Gustav, Katrina, Isaac and Rita, but this without a doubt is the roughest we’ve ever had in this parish,” said Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard.
A very simple question, if George W. Bush was president right now and playing golf with celebrities in one of the richest zip codes in the country, would the headlines again be everywhere that portray him as insensitive, out-of-touch, even a racist president be the same now as they were 2005? Of course they would.
Instead, President Obama continues his vacation that includes fundraising events for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the relative silence is deafening.
Supporters of the president will argue that communications in this day and age make it easy for a Obama to monitor any situation from anywhere, therefore eliminating the need for him in this case to actually survey the damage up close.
Back to something Bush said in 2005 while touring the wreckage:
“I don’t think anybody can be prepared for the vastness of the destruction,” Bush said. “You can look at a picture, but until you sit on that doorstep of a house that used to be, or stand by the rubble, you just can’t imagine it.”
So can President Obama fully appreciate what’s happening across Louisiana now via news reports and updates via his advisers? Likely not. There’s nothing that matches actually speaking to families that just lost everything face-to-face or seeing whole communities destroyed up close. Nothing.
The president has received sporadic criticism of not cutting his vacation short and surveying the damage first hand, but nowhere is it remotely a lead story despite this being the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy, which was only the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
CNN calls the devastation in Louisiana “historic”. But only one newspaper editorial board, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, is calling on the president to end his vacation.