Why presidential disaster visits matter
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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