Disaster Politics: My Perennial Plea for Presidents to Stay Home

As I write this on the morning of Tuesday, August 29, forecasts predict that the storm known as Idalia will make landfall as a Category 3 Hurricane early tomorrow, about 50 miles to the west of my home outside Gainesville, Florida, then come right at me.

Any or all of those elements (when, where, how strong) could suddenly change, but two things almost certainly won’t:

First, within hours of the “all clear” signal, media and politicians will start clamorng for the President of the United States to board Air Force One and fly directly to wherever the devastation is worst and first responders are most overworked, because REASONS.

Secondly, not too long after, the President of the United States will board Air Force One and fly directly to the center of the chaos, because POLITICS.

Runways will be diverted from supply deliveries to accommodate the presidential visit.

Hangars will house Secret Service agents and press pool members instead of specialists arriving to save lives, restore power, etc.

Roadways will be commandeered for the presidential motorcade and police escort instead of cleared for ambulances and other rescue vehicles, trucks full of water and food, etc.

The president will arrive, get his picture taken with his arms around  survivors in front of their wrecked homes, shake a few other politicians’ hands, promise millions or billions in aid, then jet back to DC, after which people will finally get back to handling a bad situation.

None of that is necessary, but it  happens every time.

How much airspace was restricted,  for how long, between Los Angeles and Honolulu last week so that Joe Biden could fly in, glad-hand, mug for the cameras, and fly out? How many tons of badly needed supplies were delayed? How many cops, firefighters, and medics were distracted from helping people in need so a politician could be seen “doing something?”

I’m not a big fan of presidents in general, but I’ll be tempted to vote for the re-election of the next president who sees a large-scale disaster and resists the temptation to visit.

President Biden, after Idalia has her way with my area or some other, please just let us all know how much you care in a short television address, explain why you’re staying out of the way, then go play a round of golf or something. We’ll all be better off for your decision to handle things that way.

Thomas L. Knapp 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.