"You Asked and We Listened"
Recently, President Barack Obama made a brief, but well-publicized trip to Puerto Rico. Pundits and political scribes compared his visit to one taken by President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago, the last American President to visit the island. In glowing terms they described his interest and commitment to the nearly four million Puerto Rican residents. Unfortunately, like much of what President Obama does, it was long on rhetoric but short on substance.
The President’s visit to Puerto Rico should have been a conversation with her citizens about their pressing issues, such as jobs and the economy. Instead, it was more like a quick stop at the neighborhood ATM. The people who live on the 110-mile by 30-mile island, known as the “shining star of the Caribbean,” deserved much better.
President Obama and his fundraising team arrived in Puerto Rico primarily to curry favor with donors. The Democrat Party boasted that this visit demonstrated that the President and his party are the true friends of Hispanics around the United States, especially in south and central Florida. The media fully understood the true motives, pointing out during the days leading up to the trip that the President was attempting to gain an edge with Puerto Ricans living in the Sunshine State.
The President’s three-hour stopover can best be compared to grocery shopping at a convenience store. He ran in, got what he wanted, then left with little interaction with anyone except the cashier. Ironically, the commercial flight time from Washington’s Reagan National Airport to Luis Marin Airport in San Juan, is 3.5 hours, nearly 30 minutes longer than the length of the President’s entire visit to Puerto Rico.
I point out the President’s itinerary because soon after his cameo appearance, I had the opportunity to spend three days in Puerto Rico. I spent time visiting and talking with Puerto Rico’s young leaders and young Republican leaders from around the U.S. at their annual conference. I had a great meeting with Governor Luis Fortuño as he shared with me the hard decisions he has had to make turning around their economy, paying down the island’s $3.3 billion debt by the end of his first term and creating a business climate that will grow jobs. I met with elected officials from across the island, both Republicans and Democrats.
I had the opportunity to address a Rotary Club luncheon and participate in a very passionate discussion on the issues weighing most heavily on the minds of Puerto Ricans. I quickly learned that the people of Puerto Rico are excellent students of history. Puerto Ricans are increasingly disillusioned with President Obama’s stewardship of the economy and the on-going empty campaign rhetoric of the Democrat Party.
Our fellow American citizens to the southeast of Florida have a rich history. Puerto Ricans have made immeasurable contributions to this country both economically and in service to the United States in time of war, beginning with World War I and continuing to today in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are Americans that want the same things that we want on the mainland: jobs, a strong economy, a good education for their children and a better future for the next generation.
I left Puerto Rico feeling much richer from my time and my experiences there, including sitting down to dinner with a Puerto Rican family and their friends. The President missed that kind of experience by racing past citizens waving their American and Puerto Rican flags standing along the roadway as he headed for the airport after a three-hour stay. As Co-Chair of the Republican Party, I was honored to have had the beautiful island of Puerto Rico open her doors to me and blessed that her people opened their hearts to me. I will never forget it.
It was not Puerto Rico’s people that lost in the President’s brief 3 hour visit – it was the President’s loss. And Puerto Ricans have to ask themselves, “We waited 50 years for that?”
Sharon Day is the Co-Chairman of the Republican National Committee. She can be reached at RNCCoChair@gop.com.