Video: When photo ops meet red tape

posted at 5:11 pm on November 27, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

It’s easy for politicians to fly into a disaster area and make promises, but it’s a lot more difficult to deliver on them.  last month, when Barack Obama visited New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he told the victims of the storm that he would blow away the red tape to help them out — and made a promise to one person in particular that his administration would get her business back on its feet.  Donna Vanzant provided Obama with a memorable photo op, but became quickly forgotten in the bureaucracy Obama promised to waive:

Vanzant has been moved by the many kindnesses she received from friends, family and customers. She heard from countless people after the photograph of her hug with the president was published, including from strangers as far away as Vietnam who wished her well.

She said she was honored to meet Obama, but she is also frustrated that she has yet to receive help from either her insurance companies or the government. “The president told me I would get immediate help,” she said.

“Looking back on it, it wasted a lot of people’s time,” she said of the visit.

Fox News picked up the story this morning with a Brian Kilmeade interview:


After Hurricane Sandy hit along the New Jersey Shore and throughout New York City, President Obama traveled to the effected area and delivered a message to both victims and the federal government, advising the fed to use “no bureaucracy, no red tape … get resources where they’re needed as fast as possible.” To the victims, he promised assistance. “We are standing behind you and we are going to do everything we can to help you get back on your feet.”

It was that same day that an emotional embrace between the president and a New Jersey businesswoman, Donna Vanzant, was caught on camera and shared around the world. It’s a photo of which Vanzant now says, “It’s frustrating for me that that picture is even out there right now.”

After losing her entire marina business, of which she estimates a $500,000 loss, she told Fox and Friends’ Brian Kilmeade that her hope has been dashed in the month that followed the photo.

“I was very excited and felt warmed by the embrace, thinking, ‘This is really gonna happen, I’m going to get the help I need, because you promised that,’ and it’s been almost a month now and I’ve gotten no help,” she said.

Believe it or not, because the destruction was caused by the storm waters rising in a flood instead of falling down, financial assistance from insurance has been null. Vanzant says her only option offered by FEMA was to ‘get a loan’ at six percent interest, but she says she wouldn’t be able to make the monthly payments at such a rate.

This story will move today on the premise of “Obama breaks his promise,” but that will miss the point, at least in part.  The more salient point is that Obama had no chance at all of keeping it, either to Vanzant or to the others whom he promised a streamlined process.  Large bureaucracies don’t move that way, and FEMA stopped being a relatively nimble organization years ago.  Only a bureaucracy would assume that a loan at 6% would assist in a situation like this, where the business environment as well as the business itself has been destroyed or badly damaged.

FEMA’s role in disasters is limited to supporting local and state recovery efforts, and writing checks.  In Hurricane Sandy, their performance was anything but sterling; massive amounts of critically-needed bottled water and fuel were staged far outside of the disaster area, and the agency fumbled the transportation of both.  Obama could have had an impact on fixing those problems, but a President doesn’t have the ability to instantly redirect resources on a case-by-case basis, which is one reason why Presidents shouldn’t make those kinds of promises in the first place. It’s also the reason that the state and local governments closest to the disaster areas should run these efforts rather than the federal government.

At any rate, we seem to have difficulty in learning the lessons of entrenching bureaucracies, even when they’re so obvious that the first impulse of a bureaucracy-expanding politician like Obama is to promise that he won’t let it get in the way of serving the needs of the people … which is always the rationalization for politicians like Obama to create and expand bureaucracies in the first place.  And if you think FEMA’s response was bad, wait until we all see what the ObamaCare bureaucracy will do with health insurance when it’s fully implemented.


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