Where was Obama during Katrina? Trick question
Some questions are more satisfying than their answers -- if, that is, you care about facts.
One such question exploded across the internet into flight like a flock of angry birds in defense of President Donald Trump against back-seat critics of his response to Hurricane Harvey.
Among the defensive tweets, a deluge of "What about ...?" questions flooded the Twitter-sphere concerning a previous president -- which turned out to be the wrong previous president.
"How come we never saw Obama helping the Katrina victims?" read one typical tweet, reproduced on Snopes.com, the fact-checking website. "Oh, that's right. He was golfing at the time."
"THANK YOU, TRUMP," read another. "THIS IS HOW A REAL PRESIDENT LEADS. WHERE WAS OBAMA DURING KATRINA??? PROBABLY GOLFING. #MAGA." ("MAGA" is Trumpspeak for his embrace of Ronald Reagan's "Make America Great Again" slogan.)
And another: "U R a nutcase. It was your Pres Obama who was golfing during Hurricane Katrina. Pres Trump has been very proactive, B4 and now."
Don't you love to hear blockheads call you a "nutcase" as they spew idiotic falsehoods?
The Obama-golf meme, for example, will not die. For years Trump criticized Obama for allegedly golfing too much, in much the same way that Democrats criticized President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, a decade that Trump often seems eager to recreate.
But CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, a downright fanatical tracker of presidential golfing days, reported Trump has gotten off to a poor start. As of Aug. 1 in the first year of each man's presidency, Trump's golfing days outnumbered Obama's 21 to 11, Knoller reported. But, as Trump supporters say, it's early; give him a chance.
The argument that Obama did not do enough when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans might make more sense if Obama had been president at the time. As many of us remember, George W. Bush was president when Katrina made landfall in August 2005. Obama was still representing Illinois in the U.S. Senate.
Yet the rising Democratic star did meet with Katrina evacuees the following month in Houston, alongside former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in a heartwarming display of bipartisan assistance. Ah, those were the days.
These days the right-wing policy of BOF -- blame Obama first -- in response to any crisis is alive, fierce and working overtime in "whataboutism." That's a term for the old Cold War-era Soviet practice of responding to all criticism from us Americans with criticism of America.
If we didn't like their police-state justice, for example, their leaders might well respond, "What about your segregation of black people in your Southern states?" So what if one had nothing to do with the other? The purpose of whataboutism is to distract, delay and defuse criticism by changing the subject, sort of like Trump when he's asked to reveal his income tax returns.
But in our social network age, we also need to talk about whataboutism.
Bots, I am learning, are roving and sometimes mischievous web programs that can interact with computer systems and humans like a human.
Remember the old saying about how a lie can go around the world before the truth gets its shoes on? That's what bad bots do -- quite literally.
Many wonder, could the Obama/Katrina tweets be another misinformation invasion by Russian bots? Don't the Russians know who was president during Katrina, either?
Snopes called Russian influence doubtful, quoting Ben Nimmo, a senior fellow for information defense at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. After scanning mentions of Obama and Katrina between Aug. 24 and 30, he said most of the tweets mocked the idea of blaming Katrina reaction on Obama.
That's a relief for those of us who care about facts.
Nevertheless, Snopes reminds us, an August 2013 survey conducted by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling found that 29 percent of Louisiana Republicans believed that Obama was to blame for the poorly executed federal response to Katrina -- and another 44 percent were unsure whether Obama or George W. Bush was at fault.
Does this tell you that people believe what they want to believe? Sure. That's a sentiment that crosses party lines. Why, human nature asks us, let inconvenient facts get in the way of a satisfying rant?
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