Recently, the right-wing media and their favorite politicians lambasted President Obama for not taking a quick field trip to the Texas/Mexico border. They were suggesting that as long as he was in Austin, he was already “in the neighborhood,” and therefore, it was some kind of dereliction of duty unless he personally reviewed the situation of the Central American children — so he could truly comprehend it, I suppose. With righteous indignation, they compared his refusal to Bush opting for a birds-eye pass over the scene of Katrina damage. Sadly, it took the senseless downing of a civilian plane and child killings in Gaza to quell this endless loop of rants about a border trip.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify these ravings as nothing more than political theater that would have certainly morphed into cries for impeachment if the other tragedies had not interceded. Of course, Congressional Republicans are now experts on what they think the President’s job duties are; they’ve shown themselves clueless about their own jobs, of course. The reality is (if anyone wants to go there) that the louder they yell about Obama doing or not doing something, the more suspicious we need to be about their motives. In this case, the trip would be so unwarranted and unwise, the plot to trap the President couldn’t be more obvious. Why wouldn’t this trip be an appropriate one for the President to make? I thought of about four reasons.
1.) There is no particular necessity or justification for the presidential presence at the border now. The President doesn’t need more information. He is fully informed and has no problem with numerical concepts. Since 2011, the administration has been aware of – and taking certain measures in conjunction with – the increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors coming to our border to escape gang violence (70,000 gang members in Honduras alone), corruption, and poverty in Central America. President Obama has already done what he can by asking Congress to appropriate funds to address this situation. The ball is now decidedly in Congress’s court.
Also, President Obama cannot say or promise much to these children, most of whom will probably be deported under our laws. Maybe a papal visit with blessings and fatherly love would be meaningful to the young people. Meanwhile, they’d probably be more excited to get some more good meals, a safe place to stay, and a good rest, no matter who comes to say howdy.
As for visiting the border patrol agents . . . I hardly think they deserve a presidential clap on the shoulder to keep up their morale and esprit d’ corps. If they were dealing with armed insurgents, that might justify a trip (like the one to Afghanistan). But border agents are detaining children, many of whom are glad to surrender to someone who isn’t going to hurt them. No medals for bravery are going to be needed here.
2.) The Texas/Mexico border is NOT just down the road from Austin. This isn’t a situation where the President visited Manhattan and refused to go to Brooklyn. If you google the square footage of Texas, you might also discover that within its borders, Texas could accommodate Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, Maine, Indiana, and still have room for a good chunk of Kentucky. The predominant Texas border crossing point is in Mission, a little over 300 miles from Austin – about the same distance between Philadelphia and Boston, two cities with New York City in between and not considered shouting distance from each other.
3.) A border trip at the time would have put the President’s safety at risk. I’m not equating the border region with a third-world country. . . only suggesting that any venue or detainment camp would be difficult to secure, particularly upon such short notice. Usually, advance teams begin work to secure a venue at least a week before a visit. For example, for the public address in Austin, the agreement to appear at the Paramount Theater was finalized about a week in advance.
But, I hear you ask, how can he just drop in at Franklin’s Barbeque unexpectedly? Your question contains the answer: “drop in…unexpectedly.” As explained in Jodi Kantor’s account of presidential life in her book, The Obamas, the Secret Service must sweep and secure any place the president visits unless he is making an unexpected, unscheduled visit. That exception is made because the element of surprise provides virtually the same level of security as an advance team can accomplish for a scheduled appearance. With the 3 Ps (Perry, pundits, and politicians) ranting about the need for him to visit the border, no trip to the Texas border would have been surprising.
4.) A surge of unaccompanied children from Central America is NOTHING like the Katrina disaster. In case you, too, are under any misapprehensions about Katrina (because you were in a coma that year), let me explain that the iconic city of New Orleans was virtually decimated. Katrina is the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, killing 1,833 people and damaging property to the tune of about $108 billion. Its residents, homeless in the aftermath of the storm, became refugees in their own country.
President Obama has not avoided personal visits when a large disaster involves American citizens and when he can reasonably help by consoling its victims and assuring them that they are not alone – that help is on the way. You saw President Obama visiting the Texas coast during the BP oil spill disaster and in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy — where Americans lost their lives, homes, livelihoods, and sense of safety and security. He brought the reassurance that only the presence of the President can provide.
Nothing even remotely like those disasters is occurring on the Texas border. Our citizens on the border are not threatened by an influx of children who need nothing more than food and lodging until they can receive the appropriate due process our laws require. No Americans will suffer loss of life, livelihood, or even a single night’s sleep because of this wave of border-crossers. (Some of the picket-wielding, chanting/screaming protestors might keel over from heatstroke or apoplexy while they act like zombies were invading . . . zombies with the Ebola virus.)
So, what was it that the right wingers wanted from a presidential visit to the border? They wanted photographs! Photos of him with the children. Photos to serve as “evidence” that President Obama “planned” this insurgency of minors and that, by such a visit, he was welcoming all who had heeded his Siren’s call to cross our borders illegally. The President, naturally, would have looked sympathetic and fatherly because it’s not his nature to be stern and forbidding with any children. much less those who have been through the travails that these children have. The right wingers would point to him smiling down on the multitudes as if admiring his handiwork. Voila! Another Obama conspiracy revealed!
Frankly, we’ve seen the right-wing bait-and-switch so many times it would have been political malpractice for President Obama to fall for this trap. Significantly, besides Rick Perry, no other Republicans are flying down to the border for fact-finding or even riding around in the border boat with Perry, looking simultaneously dorky and threatening (with machine guns at their ready.
As for these children, one can only imagine the ordeals they’ve had to survive to arrive to this promised land. No doubt much innocence has been jettisoned along the journey north, resulting in young people older and wiser than when they started their trek. Unfortunately, the country they sought and eventually accessed – the one known for inviting the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free – is actually teaming with citizens, pundits, and politicians more childish than they. . . people who can’t see beyond their own selfishness, political agendas, ratings, and ignorance. It seems that President Obama is the only adult in the room and, unfortunately, he can only do so much without the help of a functioning Congress — instead of this one that seems hell-bent to sabotage him (and don’t forget, sue and impeach him).
Undoubtedly for us all, while politicians play their political games in the midst of this humanitarian crisis that awaits their action, we’ve lost something more enduring than the childhood innocence of those huddled at our border. Sadly, we’ve also lost the legacy of the Lady in the harbor who has beckoned so many to risk everything and find a way to America’s shining shores.