In Flint, Obama Sips the Water that "Corrosive" Austerity Poisoned
President tells residents he 'has their back,' but for many the visit came too late.
After meeting with state and local officials, hearing from residents, and sipping the (filtered) water, Obama blasted the austerity government that brought about the "man-made disaster" and promised to city residents that he "will not rest until every drop of water that flows to your home is safe to drink."
"I came here to tell you directly that I see you. I hear you," the president told community members in a speech Wednesday afternoon. "I also wanted to come here to tell you that I've got your back."
"I will not rest—and I will make sure that the leaders at every level of government—will not rest until every drop of water that flows to your home is safe to drink and safe to bathe in," he promised, adding that it's one of the "basic responsibilities of a government of the United States of America."
The outgoing president then pivoted to lambasting the political forces that created this "man-made disaster."
Saying he does not believe that anyone "consciously" wanted to harm the people of Flint, Obama said the real culprit behind the water crisis was a "corrosive" mindset that argues "less government" and lax regulations are the best solution. He also cast blame on Republican-backed ideologies that undermine "the common good" because they refuse to invest in communities and infrastructure.
One of the major demands of Flint residents has been the replacement of the city's entire water pipe system. On Wednesday, Obama said that he would "do everything" he can to accelerate getting new pipes installed, but told residents that this would "not happen overnight." In the meantime, he assured residents that filtered water is safe to consume for people who are over the age of six and not pregnant.
The president also tried to dispel the fear that children in Flint would be forever scourged by the lead poisoning and encouraged parents to have children get checked, saying with proper care they would ultimately be "fine."
"You should be angry, but channel that anger. You should be hurt, but don't sink into despair. And most of all," Obama added, "do not somehow communicate to our children here in this city that they are going to be saddled with problems for the rest of their lives. Because they will not. They will do just fine...as long as we do right by them."
For many, the president's visit to Flint came too late.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote online Wednesday: "President Obama's trip to Flint will help keep the issue in the public eye. For that, we thank him. But the Flint Water Crisis has been allowed to fester for two years. Enough."
In an op-ed, Suh and Pastor Allen Overton, a member of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, asked the president to "bring this ugly mess to an end" while "taking the fix out of the hands of the folks who made the mistake to begin with"—namely the state government.
Longtime Flint resident and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore also told CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday that the visit was "disappointing" and that the president was not going far enough to remedy the immediate dangers with the water and the greater economic problems in the city.
"He's just trying to reassure people that everything is okay," Moore said. "To drink a glass of water when a number of experts say this water is still not safe, it's such a disappointing thing to see. He says he wants Flint to 'Get back to where it was.' When was that? Before the water crisis after we lost 75,000 General Motors jobs? Flint is a city that has really been destroyed."
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who many blame for the water crisis, made an appearance with Obama ahead of the president's address. Appearing before roughly 1,000 community members at Flint High School, Snyder was "loudly booed by the entire crowd," according to reports.
Even as the governor attempted to apologize "he could hardly get the words out over the boos and jeers," noted one White House reporter.
At one point, Snyder told the crowd, "You didn't create this problem—government failed you," to which students reportedly shouted back: "You did!"