President Obama is opting not to visit the tornado-ravaged areas of the South, choosing instead to embark today on a three day tour out West where he will try to boost his political standing by talking up his approach to the deficit and raise millions for himself and fellow Democrats.
The tornadoes, part of a storm that rampaged though six states Saturday, resulted in one of the worst disasters of any kind in the United States since the Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Scores were left injured or homeless while 45 people were killed – about four times as many as died in the Gulf oil rig explosion and the subsequent oil spill last year. In North Carolina alone, there were nearly two-dozen storm-related deaths Saturday, with 130 homes destroyed and an estimated 700 more damaged.
Not only is Obama staying away from the region, he has said almost nothing publicly about the tragedy beyond an interview with a North Carolina TV station and a very brief mention at a White House prayer breakfast. The president has failed to make the kind of national, attention-getting public statement presidents offer during crises to comfort victims by expressing the condolences of the nation and to seek charitable aid.
Sunday, he went golfing. On Monday, he did sign a disaster declaration for North Carolina, which will free up federal assistance to the state.
Vice President Biden has also failed to show up. He’s cooling his heels today at home in Wilmington, Delaware. The disaster did not even merit a visit from Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar who – without any apparent irony – was in Boston Tuesday announcing a new wind energy project.
Meanwhile, the South is bracing for more, as forecasters say severe storms and tornadoes could hit the region again today.
Obama’s failure to publicly attend to the fallout from the tornadoes comes on the one-year anniversary of the rig explosion that caused the Gulf oil spill. Obama was roundly criticized then for failing to respond sufficiently to the crisis.
The president’s silence and absence during the current crisis is particularly odd given his political stakes in North Carolina, which barely went for Obama over McCain in 2008. Obama is so desperate to hold the state that he’s chosen to hold the 2012 Democratic convention there, in Charlotte.
Obama’s first stop out West will be in San Francisco today, where he will stage two fundraisers and host a “town hall” style meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto focusing on his solution for the federal deficit. On Thursday, he’ll hopscotch over to Reno, Nevada – also a key presidential battleground state – for another deficit town hall, and then head back to California to rake in more money.
While the fundraisers are obviously political events, Obama’s public sales job for his deficit plan also has a major political component, given the widespread public concern about the economy is behind his perilously low poll ratings.