It seems President Obama got some bad PR advice this week. Why he didn’t visit a center housing some of the more than 50,000 children who have crossed our borders in the past several months was, frankly, beyond me.
According to CNN, “Texas Governor Rick Perry and others are lashing out at President Obama’s decision not to tour border facilities overwhelmed by a flood of undocumented children, saying the U.S. leader needs to see with his own eyes what both sides agree is a humanitarian crisis. ‘The American people expect to see their president when there is a disaster,’ Perry told CNN…citing Obama’s trip to the East Coast to tour damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. ‘He showed up at Sandy. Why not Texas?'”
Obama later argued, “This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops, I’m interested in solving a problem.”
Rick Perry was right. President Obama knows, as all national leaders do, that politics IS theater, and how you are seen and what you are seen doing can speak volumes. By visiting the border or–even better–taking photos with the children–he would have given us a visual representation of how deeply he cares about their awful situation.
This is not to say that the president doesn’t care. I truly believe that everyone from Rick Perry to Barack Obama to John Boehner want these children to ultimately be happy and safe. And while they may disagree on solutions to the border crisis and the immediate problem of what to do with these tens of thousands of children, they all care.
Much like his predecessor George W. Bush was criticized for not visiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the days following the killer storm, some are angry at Obama for avoiding the border last week. I see this as a missed opportunity. In public relations, photo ops are not only important, they can be essential, especially during a crisis. The president and his staff knew this–but blew a chance to communicate his concern. Your thoughts?