Should Obama cut his vacation short to visit Louisiana?

Critics say that presidents who stay on vacation during times of state emergencies can be perceived as a symbol of official neglect.

Environmental Action Network/© Jeffrey Dubinsky/Handout via Reuters
Contaminated floodwaters impact an area in Ascension Parish, Louisiana where some 40,000 homes have been impacted by the recent flooding, as seen in an aerial view on Wednesday.

The Red Cross has deemed this month’s flooding in Louisiana the “worst natural disaster" since superstorm Sandy, prompting many to question where the country’s leadership is in the midst of the catastrophe.

The answer, at least where President Obama and his family are concerned, is Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy resort island off the coast of Massachusetts. While some argue that the Obamas are enjoying a well-deserved vacation, others say that the president’s response to Louisiana’s crisis is telling.

“A disaster this big begs for the personal presence of the president at ground zero,” writes the editorial board of Louisiana's Advocate. “In coming here, the president can decisively demonstrate that Louisiana’s recovery is a priority for his administration – and the United States of America.”

Louisiana was deluged with rain this weekend, with some parts of Livingston Parish seeing as much as 31 inches of rain over 15 hours. Since Sunday, the National Guard and other emergency responders have rescued more than 30,000 people. More than 7,000 people are in emergency shelters. Thirteen people have died.

"This disaster is the worst to hit the United States since Superstorm Sandy, and we anticipate it will cost at least $30 million,” said Red Cross vice president of disaster services operations and logistics Brad Kieserman, “a number which may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation."

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Craig Fugate arrived in Louisiana on Wednesday, while US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson arrived on Thursday. Mr. Fugate is under orders from Mr. Obama to use all available resources to help with recovery in flood-stricken areas.

That recovery is likely to be slow, as CNN reports. Louisiana’s flat geography means that flood waters will recede slowly. And with many homes underwater and uninsured, homeowners could be left without the means to rebuild and recover.

Despite the government’s efforts on behalf of the people of Louisiana, however, Obama’s absence rankles. Many have compared his decision to remain on vacation in Massachusetts to President George W. Bush’s decision to remain on vacation during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005, a move that the Advocate terms a “symbol of official neglect.”

Critics say that Obama should leave for Louisiana immediately if he wants to save face.

“Sometimes, presidential visits can get in the way of emergency response, doing more harm than good,” the Advocate editorial states. “But we don’t see that as a factor now that flood waters are subsiding, even if at an agonizing pace. It’s past time for the president to pay a personal visit, showing his solidarity with suffering Americans.”

Others, however, defend the president. The Washington Post, for example, ran a piece Friday outlining Obama’s refusal to “perform” for the media. If Obama says that he is monitoring the situation from Martha’s Vineyard, the Post writes, then he genuinely believes he can monitor the situation much better where he is.

“The president can’t be everywhere,” Secretary Johnson told reporters.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence arrived in Louisiana on Friday, a move that the Associated Press reports is emblematic of the campaign’s shift since a recent staffing shakeup.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.