NObama in Vermont in the wake of Irene

by Rob Roper

The photo shows the President pointing with authority at something off camera as victims of Tropical Storm Irene deferentially look on. Another shows him hugging a woman who has presumably suffered some loss. Yet another shows him discussing plans for rebuilding with the governor. Not Governor Shumlin of Vermont that is, but Governor Chris Christy of New Jersey.

Though Vermont suffered some of the worst damage from the storm, the President didn’t see fit to make an appearance here, despite the fact that Vermont gave him the highest percentage of the vote out of all states in the union besides his own home state of Hawaii. It looks like ours is an unrequited love.

At a gathering of hundreds of volunteers ready to spend their day cleaning up flood damage in Waterbury, Governor Shumlin did his best to cover for the leader of his party. “Some reporter asked me yesterday, the President’s in New Jersey, how come he’s not coming to Vermont? I said because he knows that New Jersey folks, they need a lot of care, and Vermont, we take care of ourselves.”

This got big applause, but it is doubtful Governor Shumlin will be making such statements when federal money is concerned.

Arguably, we’re better off not having a president visit a disaster zone. The logistics required for security for the President would only get in the way of people doing real things to improve the situation. However, where Vermont truly needs help and where the President could indeed be an asset is not in the disaster zones, but in our tourist areas.

The economic impact of Irene won’t be fully felt until after the fall foliage season and our ski season are over. Perhaps beyond. If national news paints a picture of Vermont as utterly devastated the potential is that visitors will find other places to go. Many innkeepers spent the days after Irene dealing with another storm, this one of phone calls from customers canceling reservations for the Labor Day weekend.

This loss of income and the tax revenue that it generates will bring further pain to Vermonters and lessening our ability to pay for necessary repairs.

Pat McDonald of the Vermont Republican Party commented, “Certainly to have the President talk about what is open here in Vermont — and to keep people focused not only on helping Vermonters get back on strong footing, but also to make sure that tourism is not dramatically impacted — that would have been great.”

It’s not as if President Obama had better things to do (or if he did, chose to do them). His published weekend schedule following the storm was completely blank. The President left Washington at 12:30 pm for David, and did nothing until visiting New Jersey on Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps the President needed the break. After all, it had been nearly a week since his return from nine days in Martha’s Vineyard. But, that is why a visit from Obama to Vermont would have been so effective in this particular case. If there’s one thing this President knows, it’s a great place to take a vacation.