One can play the same game with presidential vacations.
Whenever Obama chooses not to let a terrorist attack or other emergency cut short his time off, his supporters justify his absence by insisting that the president shouldn’t be held “hostage” to the news cycle, or that he shouldn’t get in the way of first responders. That’s what they said last week when Obama stayed put in Martha’s Vineyard instead of surveying flood damage in Louisiana.
These are good excuses, but ones that never seemed to work for his predecessor.
Indeed, then-Sen. Obama pounced on Bush for not immediately visiting Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
“We can talk about levees that couldn’t hold, about a FEMA that seems not just incompetent but paralyzed and powerless. About a president who only saw the people from the window of an airplane instead of down here on the ground,” Obama preached in New Orleans in 2005.
In 2007, after the Bush administration had spent more than $100 billion on Katrina recovery efforts, Hillary Clinton was still saying the victims were “invisible” to Bush.
Perhaps Donald Trump had these criticisms in mind when, in a shrewd political move last week, he flew to Louisiana, shaming Obama into announcing he would also survey the damage in person.
Of course, politics is about more than simply making the best decisions on the merits. “Optics,” as the political consultants say, matter. Asked why he hadn’t been to Louisiana earlier, Trump explained helpfully, “I had nothing to gain before.”
But the fact remains that the standards of politics often move like a seesaw, with the weight of one side’s hypocrisy elevating the other. And that’s OK for partisans. They are supposed to seek advantage over their opponents.
I’m much less forgiving of the media. Hurricane Katrina was undoubtedly a huge story, and investigating the federal response to it was squarely in the fourth estate’s wheelhouse. But there’s simply no denying that the news media used that disaster as a partisan cudgel against a Republican president it detested.
Journalism students are famously taught, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” But they also seem to have been instructed that if a president you hate is on the ropes, let it fly; if a president you love is in the same spot, fall silent.