Tuesday, August 15, 2023


It was only a matter of time:

I believe it was political malpractice for President Joe Biden not have visited East Palestine. And "visit" is the operative term; the physical presence of the President "on the ground" would have been of limited value to the people of East Palestine. Infinitely more important is the prompt, efficient coordination of federal resources and effective coordination with other government agencies- and possibly other actors- in addressing the catastrophic train wreck in the northeastern Ohio town.

Still, it would have been wise for the President to be seen in East Palestine, especially if he could have been photographed walking around, surveying the area in what, with the recent GOP abortion shenanigans, could again become a swing state. A similar, albeit far more worse, situation faced New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani on September 11, 2001.  Against expert advice, the mayor had successfully promoted an emergency command center at the World Trade Center and thus was left with little alternative to walking around Manhattan- and consequently was bizarrely perceived as fully in charge.

In 2007, presidential candidate Joe Biden , to widespread acclaim,  ridiculed Rudy Giuliani as forming sentences only with "a noun, a verb, and 9/11."  Nonetheless, Giuliani, promoted by Saturday Night Live and others, was crowned "America's Mayor" by the media and remained the favorite for the Republican nomination for President until his campaign imploded. And President George W Bush was fatally wounded by his decision to arrange a photo-op on Air Force One rather than on Bourbon Street to highlight the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Yet, a trip to Hawaii probably isn't in the same category as Katrina or an unprecedented terrorist attack carried out by murderous Islamic fundamentalists. Though considerable, the death toll hasn't been as large in Hawaii as in New Orleans.

And it is one more thing: it is Hawaii. It is not Louisiana, Ohio, Kansas, or even California. It is Hawaii, like Alaska not a part of the continental USA- and unlike Alaska, not Republican, red or even "purple."

Hawaii is not a part of the continental USA. Though that doesn't make Hawaiians any less American, it appears to do so to a fair number of Americans, the vast majority of them conservative. The extraordinary diversity of the state, sometimes referred to as the Hawaiian Islands, exacerbates this unfortunate perception.

Notwithstanding the saying "perception is reality," perception is not reality. Otherwise, reality would no longer be reality.  However, perception is important. One of the reasons, completely unappreciated, that Donald Trump and his band of merry bigots were able to convince some conservative individuals that Barack Obama was born abroad is because Obama was not born in the continental USA, but rather in Hawaii.

Of course, in 2023 nearly everyone realizes Hawaii is a legitimate part of the country and perhaps most believe even that it is as American as, well, a cheeseburger with fries or silly emulation of cultural appropriation. And so, the President of the USA probably should drop in on Maui, demonstrate the proper affect, and explain the impact of the aggressive federal response to the fires there.  But the Administration should keep in mind that political implications of direct presidential involvement in other tragedies.

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