What Haiti needs now: a personal visit from Obama
US presidents visit disaster areas in America all the time. President Obama can build on his good response to the Haitian quake so far by bearing personal witness to this tragedy.
Thus far, President Obama has done all the right things in response to Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. He hastily dispatched American ships, transport planes, and more than 2,000 troops to help distribute supplies, search for missing victims, and maintain order in the devastated Caribbean nation. At a press conference on Thursday, meanwhile, the president also pledged $100 million in immediate US aid.Skip to next paragraph
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But there’s one pledge Mr. Obama hasn’t made: to visit Haiti himself.
And he should, as soon as possible.
When disaster strikes in the United States, after all, presidents traditionally travel to the stricken areas to offer symbolic as well as material support. A presidential visit signals the nation’s concern for the victims, drawing renewed attention to their plight. The time has come for Obama to extend this practice outside our own borders to a country that is suffering beyond anything we can imagine.
Presidential disaster visits date to the mid 20th-century, when air travel made them easier. Harry Truman went to Oregon in 1948 to get a first-person look at its floods, which reminded him of the torrents he had witnessed growing up in Missouri. And when another round of flooding hit Missouri and its neighbors in 1951 and again in 1952, President Truman was there both times.
“I have ... a nationwide public service job,” Truman told a 1952 press conference in Omaha, after nearby flood damage. “That’s all I do. That’s all I am....”
Thirteen years later, when hurricane Betsy struck the Gulf Coast, Lyndon B. Johnson flew immediately to the region. “I am here because I want to see with my own eyes what the unhappy alliance of wind and water have done to this land and people,” President Johnson told an airport audience in New Orleans, the day after the disaster. “You can be sure that the federal government’s total resources will be turned to Louisiana to help this state and its citizens find its way back from this tragedy.”