On the Scene for Obama's Speech in Joplin
The president spoke of two men who sacrificed their lives not for their wives or children, but for their customers. Dean Wells was an electrical department manager at the Home Depot store which took a direct hit. Wells went back in again and again, moving people to safety until one of the walls fell on him. Obama also told the story of Christopher Lucas, 26, who was the father of two girls, with a third on the way. He was a manager at a local Pizza Hut. When the sirens went off, Lucas got everyone into the walk-in freezer. But there was no way to lock it from the inside, so Lucas tied a bungee cord around the handle on the outside and held the door as long as he could -- ultimately being sucked out of the freezer but saving the lives of a dozen people.
Was it right for Obama to take up the valuable time of rescuers and volunteers touring the wreckage? I don't know. At least one person I talked to after the event didn't think so.
Rosie Peterson of Duenweg, Mo., who was in the destroyed 15th Street Wal-Mart store when the tornado hit, said she wasn't even aware Obama was going to be at the memorial service until she arrived.
"It was what I expected," she said of the speech. "Honestly. it's just more chaos."
For me, I'm torn. On the one hand, a presidential visit in the midst of a crisis is one more added layer of complexity in an already complex and difficult situation -- something the aid workers do not need. At the same time, whatever your political orientation, the person of the president carries great weight, and it's always heartening to a community to know the president, personally, cares about what happened to them.
Will his visit help energize a community which has taken far too many shocks over the last week? In the days and weeks ahead, the spotlight will shift, the media will move on to new stories, new disasters. The people of Joplin will still be there rebuilding. Letting them know they're not forgotten is not the least important of a president's jobs.