As surely as day follows night, a presidential visit follows any major disaster in the United States, so it’s no surprise that US president Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden plan, as reported at Politico, to personally “survey storm damage” from Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, and “meet with officials,” in Puerto Rico and Florida.
That’s always how it goes, and it’s always a bad idea.
I understand WHY it happens. It doesn’t happen because a president thinks a disaster area is a great place to campaign for re-election or for his party’s candidates. It happens because a president’s opponents will paint him as callous, uncaring, and out of touch if he doesn’t get on a plane and go through the motions of comforting the afflicted.
But presidential visits to disaster areas don’t comfort the afflicted, they afflict the afflicted.
How many planes full of urgently needed cargo and people will be delayed by the security measures around Air Force One’s arrival, presence, and departure?
How many cops and other first responders will spend their time providing motorcade security and so forth when they could have been helping displaced and distressed Puerto Ricans and Floridians get back on their feet? How badly will essential traffic get delayed by the presidential circus?
Whatever you think about federal disaster aid, it’s also worth considering how many destroyed homes could be replaced with the money spent to fly in a political sight-seer and his entourage.
Joe Biden doesn’t need to personally “survey the damage.” Plenty of other people are doing that right now, and producing reports on it for him to read.
If he needs to “meet with officials,” he has numerous telephone/Internet conferencing options at his disposal — options that don’t require those officials to deal with a real emergency AND a presidential visit emergency when they owe their full attention to the real emergency.
Unlike many, I don’t normally associate politicians with words like “leadership” and “courage.” But if Joe Biden wanted to put those qualities on display, he’d issue a statement along these lines:
“I won’t be visiting Puerto Rico and Florida this week. They’re busy. They’ve got work to do. Anything I could do for them would best be done from the Resolute desk in the Oval Office. I’m going to stay out of their way, wish them well, and help from here. If that’s bad politics, so be it.”
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.