President Obama today stopped himself as he was about to leave the podium to end his press conference and returned to the microphone to express condolences to the family of “a friend of mine,” Rep. Donald Payne, (D-N.J.), whose death was announced today following a bout with cancer.
But there was nothing in Obama’s press conference about some 40 of his countrymen who died from a plague of tornadoes that roared across the middle of the country late last week.
As far as I can tell, Obama, though he called the governors of the affected states, has said nothing at all publicly about the tragedy, in which many were maimed as well as killed, towns eradicated, and lives ruined. Not even a written statement has been released.
And yet the president took a moment to remember a single Congressman he happened to know who died at the age of 77, after earlier releasing a written statement about Payne’s death. It’s sad, but it doesn’t campare to the tragedy surrounding the storms.
Obama’s tribute for Payne and not for the storm victims isn’t consistent with the image the president seeks to cultivate for himself as someone who cares about the average citizen over and above the elite.
Michelle Obama, to her credit, mentioned the storms at fundraising stops in Missouri Monday, offering prayers for those affected “on behalf of myself and my husband.” But that only underscores that even the White House understood that it was appropriate for something to be said, and there is no reason the president can’t do so by himself instead of through his wife.
Yesterday I wrote that Obama had taken time to call a Georgetown University Law student who had been insulted by Rush Limbaugh while waiting until Saturday to speak with three of the governors of the affected state. It was pointed out to me that he had actually called six governors Thursday, and so I decided my original story that he hadn’t devoted time to the tragedy was unfair.
The president expressed condolences through the governors. But the president is, as our nation’s leader, expected to use the bully pulpit to comfort the bereaved and the injured and express the nation’s sorrow. His utter silence is incomprensible to me, and an insult to the victims.
This is not the first time Obama has insufficiently addressed tragedy. He was criticized for being slow in his response to the BP oil spill.
Obama should make a statement in person about the tornadoes, and then go to the area and help the healing process by witnessing some of the damage.