Let’s open the line with a report on the bipartisan group of politicians that inspected Faulkner County tornado damage Sunday. The visit produced the uncommon sight of Tweets from Reublican Sen. Jason Rapert and Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin thanking all, including Democrats. Thanks went to, among others, President Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for coming to Arkansas. Does this now mean Republicans will stop complaining on social media about President Obama’s visit Wednesday. Not likely.
Smarter Republican politicians have awakened to the fact that, no matter your political inclination, it makes little sense to bite the hand that feeds you. It looks tacky to search for crass political motives (even if some exist) when a governor, president or other political figure demonstrates empathy for your plight and promises, by in-person testimony, to help. A quick flyover just isn’t the same thing.
I noted yesterday that one particularly rabid Republican politician, a Tom Cotton backer, Tweeted without thinking early yesterday that the president’s announcement of a visit to Arkansas was an an answer to his prayer. That’s how toxic he presumes the mere sight of the black man from Kenya is in Arkansas.
If this legislator prayed for Obama to come does that mean God answered his prayer by killing 15 people and devastating many communities to facilitate the visit? Of course not. It was a stupid remark from a blunderbuss politician known for stupid remarks. He’s deleted his tweet and also his sneering comment that Sen. Mark Pryor would be nowhere around. In fact, the senator invited the president to come. Let’s admit a political angle: It was a good way to get the president to Arkansas with some insulation from nasty politics. He’s never visited here as president, though he did help Beebe campaign for governor once in 2006.
It can hardly harm the president’s low standing in Arkansas to visit to promise help in time of need. Bill Clinton’s appearance likewise, certainly when Clinton promised to tap his many private funding sources to help fill gaps in government coverage. It might even soften some people in the middle to see Barack Obama as something less than an evil specter intent on nothing but providing health insurance coverage nobody wants. (But wait, haven’t hundreds of thousands of Arkansans been signed up for Obamacare?)
The tornado disaster occurred outside U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton’s district. So he had no pressing need to be present in these visits. But his presence would also open Pryor’s Republican opponent to what would be another tortured explanation of how he voted against the funding bill under which FEMA now will send considerable aid to Arkansas for tornado repair. Yes, I know. He had ideological reasons for opposing the bill. Too much other government spending. It was principle, see.
A politician’s principle is cold comfort when your house, school, power grid and businesses have been blown down. Small government Tim Griffin was quoted in the morning paper as saying $150,000, perhaps the amount needed to make towns like Vilonia whole from lost sales tax revenue was a small amount for the government to pick up. Don’t get me wrong. I’m with him. But coming from a crusading budget hawk it was a little off-key. (UPDATE: See below for sales tax-related idea rejected by an old friend of the congressman, Exxon/Mobil.)
I ask Cotton’s blind partisans to stop for a moment to consider how they’d feel if Nancy Pelosi had been among a handful of diehard holdouts, about 15 percent of the House, against the FEMA funding bill now speeding money to Arkansas storm victims.
Most intriguing item of day was a Tweet from Channel 11 that indicated Gov. Beebe had been quoted as saying he’d made some suggestions to Exxon/Mobil about disaster help, but the big oil company, still digging out of a pipeline disaster in nearby Mayflower, had ignored it. Just as they tend to ignore everybody all the time.
UPDATE: Matt DeCample, Beebe’s spokesman, elaborates:
Exxon reached out to us a few days ago saying they wanted to contribute to help Mayflower and Vilonia, and asked for advice from Governor Beebe on how that contribution could best be made. Based on feedback from local officials, the governor suggested the best use of their contribution would be shore up the shattered sales-tax bases of both towns, as many businesses will need to be completely rebuilt and will remain closed (and not making sales) for some time.
Soon after, Exxon announced that they would contribute elsewhere. While the money does go to good causes (Red Cross and a community-aid organization), the governor expressed his frustration today that his advice was asked for, we worked to determine what would most benefit the cities, and that advice seemed to then be discarded.