Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Response


"The images summed up Hurricane Irene — the media and the United States federal government trying to live up to their own doom–laden warnings and predictions while a sizeable number of ordinary Americans just carried on as normal and even made gentle fun of all the fuss."

Toby Harnden
The Telegraph
Aug. 28, 2011

Perhaps I'm getting cynical, but I can't help seeing the political motives of just about every move politicians make now — under virtually any circumstances — even those politicians who are thought to be above such mundane concerns.

The response to Hurricane Irene illustrates my point.

I don't know anyone — regardless of political leaning — who wasn't dismayed by the sight of rising floodwaters and people struggling just to survive after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans six years ago — and then further dismayed by the interminable delay in getting assistance of all kinds to the people who needed it.

And I don't blame the president for wanting to avoid the kind of scornful criticism that was heaped on George W. Bush in 2005. In the past, he's gotten plenty of positive hype to go with the negative, but lately, it seems like the last good thing anyone had to say about him was back in the spring when the Navy SEALs got Osama bin Laden.

Just last week, Democratic pollsters Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell wrote that at least one competitive third party will emerge in next year's presidential election.

"Look no further than the recent launch of the centrist, bipartisan, Americans Elect," they wrote. "This is a nonprofit political organization that plans to break the stranglehold of the two–party duopoly by selecting a third presidential ticket, via an Internet convention, that will be on the ballot in 2012."

And opinion polls have shown the president losing his grip on swing states that swung his way in 2008.

But let's be fair.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in American history. Its highest sustained winds exceeded 170 miles an hour. More than 1,800 people died. It left damages well over $100 billion.

Hurricane Irene's highest sustained winds were around 120 miles an hour. Not quite two dozen casualties have been reported so far, and damages are roughly one–tenth the damages left by Katrina.

When a hurricane strikes, there is always a need for swift, decisive action by the federal, state and local authorities. But some storms are more severe than others, and Katrina was, any way you care to look at it, far more severe than what the East Coast has endured in the last few days.

I'm not trying to minimize the suffering of the people on the East Coast. But it turned out that the hurricane just happened to zero in on those Obama states — North Carolina and Virginia — followed by a march through the solid Northeast that staked Obama to the early lead on Election Night 2008 that he never relinquished.

From a politician's perspective, it's an ideal time to shore up those nervous supporters in the Northeast — who are probably going to vote for Obama, no matter what, but it's still a good idea to remind them that you're looking out for them.

Even if the threat wasn't as great as had been expected.

Which is how it turned out.

In fact, it was already looking like storm damage would be far short of expectations yesterday when Obama made his reassuring speech from the White House. But Obama — who must really be feeling the need to give the appearance of being in control of events instead of being controlled by them — reminded viewers that, even though the immediate threat was mostly gone, there would be much work to be done in the coming weeks and months.

I got the impression of a sprinter who is crouched at the starting line, clearly itching to leap into action. It was probably intended to be reassuring to all those folks in New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts, but it struck me as a bit self–serving and inappropriate.

Sure, there has been some damage, and there has been some loss of life. But I've seen tornadoes that did all that in my home state of Arkansas, and I don't recall any American president going on national TV to announce that he was going to make it a priority that everyone's needs would be met.

Of course, none of the broadcast media folks lived in Little Rock, either.

Well, that should keep those blue staters in line, anyway, and give Obama a little more freedom to pursue the independents who have been abandoning him in the swing states.

Actually, I guess, Irene was a win–win for Obama. I mean, damage was minimal, media exposure was maximum (he can show his Irene footage in his campaign ads and compare his response to Bush's after Katrina) and the markets were so relieved that things weren't nearly as bad as they could have been that they posted significant rallies Monday, even though many traders could not get to Wall Street.

Too bad the Obama campaign couldn't bottle that and save it for late October 2012.

1 comment:

askcherlock said...

We know that following hurricanes is an inexact science. I would rather we be over-prepared than under-prepared as we were during Katrina. I read several weeks ago that we had been scheduled to send a satellite into space by 2014 that would have given us a far better look at these hurricanes. Funding was cut. End of that story.