COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Did you know that President Obama has been incommunicado with Colorado's governor for more than two weeks as the nation's worst wildfires rage across the state? Maybe he thought we were all "doing fine." After an embarrassing Beltway press briefing revelation about our out-of-touch White House, the administration finally decided to divert the campaigner in chief from his nationwide fundraising frenzy for a quick look-see at our devastated city on Friday. It's "leadership from behind" you can count on.
On Wednesday, press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that Obama hadn't talked to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in 15 days. Holy smokes. The High Park fire, which has consumed nearly 90,000 acres and claimed nearly 257 homes west of Fort Collins, ignited on June 9 and is still active. During a campaign swing just last week, first lady Michelle Obama made a brief mention of the High Park fire before launching into her standard GOP-bashing stump speeches.
On June 23, the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs erupted. An estimated 19,000 acres and nearly 350 homes burned down to the ground on Tuesday. More than 32,000 have been displaced so far. My family was forced to abandon our home on Saturday, and our neighborhood remains in a mandatory evacuation zone. On June 27, Boulder's Flagstaff fire broke out and has so far blazed through 300 acres.
While he made no public statements prior to the announcement of his visit, an irritated Carney told reporters on Wednesday that Obama was being "updated regularly" on the wildfires in Colorado and across the West. He then rushed out a face-saving press release heralding the president's hasty phone call that afternoon to Hickenlooper and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, in which he "expressed his concern about the extent of damage to homes in the Colorado Springs area, and informed both the governor and the mayor that he plans to travel to the area Friday to view the damage and thank the responders bravely battling the fire."
As Obama sightsees overhead in this key swing state and surrounds himself with first responders for campaign-ready photo-ops, his supporters on the ground are busy spewing excuses, attacks and death wishes on their political opponents. I know. I've received countless numbers of them hoping that firefighters let my "mansion" burn down and gloating that God is punishing Colorado's conservative population. Liberals took to Twitter to bash local GOP officials as "fire retardants" who should be dropped over the blaze. And jokes about Colorado social conservatives like this proliferated: "If this Colorado fire takes out the Focus on the Family campus, then God really exists."
The sniping isn't limited to social media. Obama strategist Rahm Emanuel said in 2008: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." On cue, Hickenlooper mocked limited-government watchdogs who questioned the Obama administration's decision to cancel a key aerial tanker contract last summer. (It was the topic of my June 20 column last week, "How Obama Bureaucrats Fueled Western Wildfires.") The Denver Post reported Wednesday:
"Asked about criticism from the right over the Obama administration's canceling of the contract, Hickenlooper offered an uncharacteristically strong defense of the president. 'Were these the same conservatives that were so worried about the Obama administration spending too much money, or were these different conservatives?' Hickenlooper said. 'Quite honestly, in a situation like this where over 30,000 people have been evacuated, I don't think that (criticism of Obama) is appropriate,' the governor said. 'We should be focusing our support on them and on the people out there risking their lives to fight these fires.'"
Spare us the sanctimony, and lay off the firefighter human shield strategy. The conservatives in Congress and libertarians at MonkeyWrenchingAmerica.com and elsewhere on the right who called attention to the U.S. Forest Service's aging, neglected and undercapitalized aerial tanker fleet are the same conservatives who have doggedly called attention to the Obama administration's serial squandering of taxpayer dollars on nonessential, ineffective, crony-driven spending. We are the conservatives worried about dumping billions of dollars into bankrupt federal green boondoggles like Solyndra, Abound Solar, Beacon Power, Ener1 and LightSquared at the expense of fundamental services -- like fighting fires.
It is entirely appropriate and possible to question this administration's policy decisions while supporting frontline emergency personnel at the same time. And it is entirely logical and rational to express gratitude for firefighters and police officers -- while working to ensure the long-term financial viability of their departments through tough but necessary budget and public employee union reforms.
But don't look to Obama to put out the flames of politically expedient and inflammatory rhetoric. He may be slow on the uptake to respond to national crises, but when it comes to exploiting them, he's an industrial-grade accelerant.