The contrast between candidates for President, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, was thrown into stark relief by their visits to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac. Both men toured areas outside of New Orleans that were not protected by the barricades erected by the Army Corps of Engineers after Katrina hit. These areas sustained extensive damage from flooding this time around.
Here is Obama’s response to what he saw in LaPlace, La.:
“We’re going to make sure that at the federal level we are getting on the case very quickly about figuring out what exactly happened here, what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again and expediting some of the decisions that may need to be made to ensure that we’ve got the infrastructure in place to protect people’s property and to protect people’s lives.” At a flood victim’s home, he said, “We’re here to help.”
Residents of the area were reassured by his presence. One of them, Barbara Melton, stopped pushing mud out of her house with a broom long enough to comment on Obama’s visit to the Associated Press. “Having him here and seeing the situation really helps people be able to cope with what’s going on.”
Here is Mitt Romney’s response, when asked for help by local resident Jodie Chiarello, who lost everything and whose house was completely underwater: “He just told me to, um, there’s assistance out there. He said, go home and call 211,” said Chiarello. (In some states, 211 is a public assistance number.)
Go home? The candidate seems to have completely missed the part of the conversation about damage, loss, and a house completely underwater.
This inattentiveness to human tragedy is appalling, but especially so, as it merely echoes policies already embraced by Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. Last spring, the budget that Ryan proposed in the House would cut $10 billion from emergency assistance funding. A Romney spokesman, Kevin Madden, said that Romney’s visit to Louisiana was intended to focus people on “the need for charitable donations and resources to aid relief efforts.”
But private donations don’t rally massive resources fast enough to deal with the immediate and overwhelming problems of Louisiana’s flooded parishes: a lack of transportation, the need for temporary housing for thousands of evacuees, and the reopening of schools that were damaged by the storm. Above all, what locals want is for their communities to have the same flood protection, built and paid for by the federal government, that New Orleans now has.
A Presidential candidate who can’t hear these pleas for help has a real problem. In November, voters need to ponder some serious questions: What if it were me, my home, my community? And use the answers to help them mark their ballots.