Why pres­i­den­tial dis­as­ter vis­its mat­ter

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

There is more then one way to skin a cat, and wel­fare fraud is a se­ri­ous prob­lem in Amer­ica. Keep in mind, the so­lu­tions for solv­ing wel­fare fraud are pretty much limited to find­ing and root­ing out the cheaters.

Re­form­ing the sys­tem as a whole is much, much harder. So hard, in fact, that no politi­cian has solved it yet.

Here is a so­lu­tion. What better way to make sure that ev­ery trans­ac­tion is fair than by charg­ing stores for food stamp pur­chases? That way, free­loaders won’t be al­lowed to buy booze and cig­a­rettes with tax­payer funds. Just think, the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get would as­sess the fee when stores sign up and would re­quire re­newal af­ter five years. The pres­i­dent’s bud­get es­ti­mates that such a fee would gen­er­ate $2.4 bil­lion in rev­enue over the next decade.

Stores that ac­cept food stamps make a ton of money off the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, and ul­ti­mately the tax­pay­ers. If they’re go­ing to be mak­ing that money, shouldn’t they be held re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing sure that ev­ery trans­ac­tion is fair?

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has clearly in­vested a vast amount of time and effort con­vinc­ing Amer­i­cans that as their chief ex­ec­u­tive he is clearly on top of prop­erly man­ag­ing the gov­ern­ment re­sponse to Hurricane Har­vey’s des­o­la­tion.

By all re­ports from the scene, this im­pres­sion has ac­cu­rately re­flected re­al­ity there. And, no of­fense to print jour­nal­ists, that is largely at­trib­uted to the op­tics, pho­tos and video.

Strangely though, this prob­a­bly won’t do much of any­thing to im­prove his his­tor­i­cally low job ap­proval rat­ings. What it will do, how­ever, is elim­i­nate a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity for crit­ics to un­load on his al­leged in­com­pe­tence.

For all the hu­man hurt in these dis­as­ters, from a po­lit­i­cal point of view they do present a golden op­por­tu­nity for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to shine. It is, af­ter all, their re­spon­si­bil­ity, de­spite the re­al­ity that by the time dis­as­ter strikes and flees, it’s pretty late for them to have any im­pact. Be­yond show­ing con­cern.

Or they can look very bad to many, though the dam­age is not as bad as you might think. More on that later.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama of­ten seemed tone-deaf in his re­ac­tions to bad news. When he was in­vis­i­ble dur­ing the night in 2012 that four Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing the U.S. am­bas­sador, were mur­dered in Beng­hazi, he held a short photo-op the next day in the Rose Gar­den to vow swift jus­tice to the perps, which we are still await­ing.

Obama then flew off to Las Ve­gas for sev­eral cam­paign fundrais­ers. When the first Amer­i­can was be­headed on cam­era dur­ing Obama’s va­ca­tion, he again made a brief state­ment to vow swift jus­tice, then went golf­ing with NBA bud­dies. Same when Afghan in­sid­ers killed the first U.S. gen­eral in com­bat in years.

Obama was also tardy vis­it­ing the Gulf of Mex­ico in 2010 af­ter Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon, the na­tion’s worst oil spill, which sym­pa­thetic me­dia didn’t bother to point out. The re­al­ity, of course, is that his visit would have done ab­so­lutely noth­ing about the dam­age.

With the char­ac­ter­is­tic luck of Obama’s ca­reer, Hurricane Sandy then wal­loped the North­east just be­fore the 2012 elec­tion. That en­abled him to make a tour of rav­aged ar­eas and be seen com­fort­ing sur­vivors. Mitt Rom­ney was left to is­sue sym­pa­thetic state­ments.

With a mega­phone, Ge­orge W. Bush per­formed im­pres­sively at the site in the af­ter­math of 9/11. But he’s taken con­sid­er­able heat for not vis­it­ing New Or­leans im­me­di­ately af­ter Hurricane Ka­t­rina in 2005. The rea­son­able rea­son: The pres­ence of any pres­i­dent would re­move re­sources, close roads and de­tract from res­cue op­er­a­tions.

In the vicin­ity any­way, Bush did or­der Air Force One to fly over the rav­aged area to get a sense for the miles-upon-miles of coastal dev­as­ta­tion. The huge mis­take of his com­mu­ni­ca­tions team was putting out a photo of Bush do­ing just that, look­ing down from the plane win­dow like an in­sen­si­tive monarch. A photo that re­quires ex­pla­na­tion is al­ways a bad photo.

The fed­eral Ka­t­rina re­sponse was also com­pli­cated by an in­com­pe­tent gover­nor and mayor. Later re­search found Bush’s Ka­t­rina handling pushed his job ap­proval down about 1.4 points, not good be­cause it was al­ready sink­ing from leg­isla­tive set­backs and the Iraq war. But not aw­ful.

Which brings us to the whole point of these dis­as­ter prepa­ra­tions: Pho­to­graphs.

Months be­fore hurricane or wild­fire sea­sons, savvy gover­nors and pres­i­dents like Trump and Obama cross town for staged brief­ings that could as eas­ily be done at their of­fices. But a pres­i­den­tial move­ment re­quires pho­tos of them at brief­ings.

Be­fore Har­vey even reached shore, Trump is­sued a dis­as­ter dec­la­ra­tion. He chop­pered off for a Camp David week­end. But we got his ur­gent tweets about prep and pho­tos of video-con­fer­ence calls with Texas and his team.

Crit­ics de­light­edly made much of Trump not vis­it­ing a flooded Hous­ton home to con­sole a fam­ily and the rally tone of his pleased re­marks on the crowd size. But here’s the painful re­al­ity straight from this life­long print jour­nal­ist: Those writ­ten words might as well have blown away by Har­vey’s 140-mile-an-hour gusts.

It’s the pho­tos that mat­ter. Trump with the gover­nor. Trump thank­ing first re­spon­ders. Trump hold­ing high the flag of an un­van­quished Texas. On his re­turn to Hous­ton Satur­day, we got pho­tos of the Trumps min­gling with chil­dren and par­ents.

The im­pact of pic­tures is not new. Dur­ing the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill would walk Lon­don’s rub­ble-strewn streets chew­ing his cigar and tipping his bowler. What­ever he thought dur­ing those dark­est days, the pic­tures showed a con­fi­dent Win­nie ral­ly­ing coun­try­men.

And CBS’ Les­ley Stahl tells the re­veal­ing tale of once do­ing a hard­hit­ting “60 Min­utes” piece on how Amer­ica’s elderly were suf­fer­ing un­der Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s poli­cies.

Soon af­ter, Rea­gan’s chief strate­gist, Michael Deaver, thanked her pro­fusely for the piece. He was most pleased, he said, be­cause view­ers would re­mem­ber none of her words. But etched in their minds were images of Rea­gan talk­ing and lis­ten­ing sym­pa­thet­i­cally to se­niors.

Same for Trump’s com­ments on crowd size.

An­drew Mal­colm is an au­thor and vet­eran na­tional and for­eign cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing pol­i­tics since the 1960s. Fol­low him @AHMal­colm.

WASHINGTON — It is about as right as right gets that young peo­ple whose par­ents brought them into the United States il­le­gally as chil­dren should be le­gal­ized, and it was about as wrong as wrong gets for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to spit on the Con­sti­tu­tion in or­der to tem­po­rar­ily do it on his own. He him­self had said no fewer than 22 times that he had no author­ity to act but trav­eled the au­to­cratic road any­way.

The ex­cuse, of course, was that Repub­li­cans in Congress were ob­struct­ing good in­ten­tions and that he was thereby freed to trash the sys­tem that put him into of­fice. He had, in fact, sworn to up­hold the Con­sti­tu­tion and was re­fus­ing that obli­ga­tion, ap­par­ently fig­ur­ing that the end jus­ti­fied the means and that mis­wrought legalese would help him get away with it. Why worry?

Be­cause it took a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, a chal­lenged union of states, a bril­liantly de­vised repub­lic like no other in world his­tory and var­ied strug­gles over more than two cen­turies to make us what we are, that’s why.

As kind as it was that the 800,000 got some re­lief, it was also po­lit­i­cally ad­van­ta­geous, and Obama was weak­en­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy. He was strength­en­ing mis­use of ex­ec­u­tive power. He was di­min­ish­ing rule of law. Along with his other uni­lat­eral hi­jinks, such as the Clean Power Plan, the move summed up his dis­dain for fun­da­men­tal Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples.

Ex­ec­u­tive or­ders are vul­ner­a­ble, how­ever. An ex­ec­u­tive is­sues them, and a suc­ceed­ing ex­ec­u­tive can take them away. So it is that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­cided to re­voke the or­der but keep it alive for six months so that Congress could fix things the right way. Trump thereby showed re­spect for the law but also showed con­cern for the 800,000. The young im­mi­grants could be hap­pily re­ly­ing on a prop­erly en­acted law far more sta­ble than a pres­i­den­tial mis­deed quite prob­a­bly on its way to be­ing scotched by the courts. Another of Obama’s im­mi­gra­tion amnesties met that fate.

An ar­gu­ment against con­gres­sional ac­tion is that it will sim­ply en­cour­age more il­le­gal im­mi­grants to en­ter the coun­try ei­ther by com­ing over the bor­der or over­stay­ing visas. Trump, how­ever, did call for an e-ver­ify sys­tem to help with the visas and, to help with bor­der se­cu­rity, his wall, his wall, his won­der­ful wall. He shouldn’t get it be­cause there are far less ex­pen­sive and equally ef­fec­tive means of achiev­ing what he has al­ready sig­nif­i­cantly fur­thered just through his or­a­tory. But he could very well get im­proved se­cu­rity that in­cludes a few walls.

So will Congress, af­ter years of dil­ly­dally and head-bump­ing, say yes to the young peo­ple who are here not be­cause of their own free will, but be­cause their par­ents snuck them in? They are good, pro­duc­tive peo­ple who are al­ready en­rich­ing our coun­try and it would be un­speak­ably cruel to dis­rupt their lives now by ship­ping them away. An ar­gu­ment in another di­rec­tion is that laws were dis­obeyed and that it un­der­mines our sovereignty not to en­force them.

But Trump is work­ing on de­port­ing crim­i­nals who are il­le­gal im­mi­grants and re­form­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to lessen num­bers and em­pha­size skills. In that con­text, it seems to me that do­ing the right thing by the young peo­ple is the easy choice and that mem­bers of Congress should es­chew po­lit­i­cal over­reach.

The last thing the Democrats should be do­ing is call­ing Trump’s cor­rec­tive mea­sures racist and try­ing to make all Repub­li­cans seem noth­ing but dem­a­gogues. The last thing the Repub­li­cans should be do­ing is in­sist­ing the Democrats just want to en­large their vot­ing bloc. What we need is rea­son­able, re­spect­ful, heart­felt dis­cus­sion that could get us to a res­o­lu­tion mak­ing us all proud. I think we will. Jay Am­brose is an colum­nist for Tri­bune News Ser­vice. Read­ers may email him at speak­to­jay@aol.com.

www.ce­cil­daily.com Serv­ing Ce­cil County since 1841 Phone 410-398-3311 • Fax 410-398-4044

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