‘It’s the thought that counts”: After Sandy, views of the Obama, Romney public efforts

History will tell us what role Superstorm Sandy played in shaping the final days of the 2012 Presidential campaign.

For now, it appears that we’ve seen two different approaches to connecting with those in need following the devastation. While one of them can be immediately judged as humane, sincere and caring, the other is much less visceral and requires more thought and analysis.

In short: do you want the man who will be your next President to be with the people, helping out and comforting them…or using the one thing he apparently has the most of–his money–to donate long distance supplies?

Obama was presidential. In times of need, the people look to their leaders for protection and salvation–the image of Winston Churchill comes to mind when London endured the German bombings during the final phase of World War II.

I can still recall former President Bill Clinton on the streets of New York the day after 9/11. Although he was no longer in power, CNN News had video footage of individuals coming up to him to talk with him, to seek comfort and assurance that it was going to be okay after all.

This man was an alleged adulterer, and impeachment proceedings had been brought against him…but the day after the worst terrorist act in history has been committed on US soil–just a few blocks away–none of that seemed to matter.

It’s been almost ten years since the last natural disaster that brought enormous devastation, Hurricane Katrina (although Sandy was far worse). In my opinion, Katrina was the lowest point in our nation’s history. Much of that devastation could have been avoided, had then-President George W. Bush mobilized the National Guard sooner, instead of after the storm had already hit. Meteorologists knew within miles where its targeted landfall would be, so there was little mystery.

President Bush did not immediately visit the devastation the disaster left behind, partly caused by our tardiness of action…instead he flew over the area and viewed it from Air Force One. Really great that he could find the time–while below, innocent people and animals starved and waited for help that, when it finally arrived, was far too late for many.

Make no mistake–as I said before, Superstorm Sandy was far worse. There was plenty of advance notice…so there were, thankfully, few lives lost. The difference is that Obama is not Bush, and he has seen to it that the government will play a major and immediate role in the recovery of the devastated areas.

He was there. He took the time to visit the devastation, met with victims, was seen walking the streets with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a man who has been openly critical of him, and who supports Obama’s rival, Mitt Romney. But on this day there is no place for politics.

What of Mitt Romney, canned-food donations organizer? He was campaigning in Florida, a place that’s seen its share of natural disasters–but not this time. Would he be consoling any victims, be visiting any storm damage?

From The New York Times: “Aides to Mr. Romney said that he had no immediate plans to visit areas damaged by the storm, though they had not ruled it out.”

The scene of Mr. Obama greeting his onetime political antagonist Gov. Chris Christie in Atlantic City was a striking departure from what has become an increasingly bitter campaign, marked by sharp divisions between Mr. Romney’s more limited view of the federal role and Mr. Obama’s more expansive vision. The president placed a hand on Mr. Christie’s back and guided him to Marine One, where the two men shared a grim flight over shattered sea walls, burning houses and a submerged roller coaster.

Speaking to storm victims at a community center in the hard-hit town of Brigantine, Mr. Obama said, “We are going to be here for the long haul.” Mr. Christie thanked the president for his visit, saying, “It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey.”

The tableau of bipartisan cooperation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s highly visible role in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, has put Mr. Romney in an awkward position during the last week of a campaign in which he has fought Mr. Obama to a virtual draw. Last year, in a debate during the Republican primary, Mr. Romney appeared to advocate handing to the states much of the federal government’s role in dealing with major disasters.

On Wednesday, as images of Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie dominated the newscasts, Mr. Romney was in Florida, a key electoral battleground that is no stranger to destructive hurricanes, where he struggled to square his small-government credo with a national disaster that seemed to cry out for a major federal response.

Before taking the stage at his first rally in Tampa, Mr. Romney issued a statement pledging to continue financing FEMA to insure it can “fulfill its mission.”

“I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” Mr. Romney said. But reaffirming his earlier point, he added that he would channel resources to “the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters.”

Aides to Mr. Romney reiterated that Mr. Romney was not backing away from comments he made at the debate in New Hampshire in June 2011. When asked about a fierce battle in Congress over continued financing of FEMA, Mr. Romney declared, “We cannot afford to do these things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.”

As the Romney campaign was confronting questions about the candidate’s position on the federal role in emergency response, Mr. Obama and Mr. Christie were being accompanied on their tour of a devastated New Jersey by FEMA’s administrator, W. Craig Fugate, whose agency has won unstinting praise from Mr. Christie, a Republican, for the speed and intensity of its response to the devastation.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama will return to the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Nevada and Ohio. But there is some initial evidence that the storm has helped the president: In the latest Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, released on Wednesday evening, nearly 8 of 10 likely voters said Mr. Obama’s response had been “excellent” or “good.”

On Wednesday, the advantages of incumbency were on full display, as Mr. Christie heaped still more praise on Mr. Obama, saying, “He has sprung into action immediately.”

With Mr. Christie nodding behind him, Mr. Obama spoke about deploying C-130 military planes to ferry supplies to stricken places like New Jersey and urged storm victims to call (800) 621-FEMA to register for direct help from the federal government.

Pledging to respond swiftly, the president said that he had instituted a rule that government officials must return calls from the state and local authorities within 15 minutes. “We are not going to tolerate red tape,” he said, “We are not going to tolerate bureaucracy.”

“We will not quit until this is done,” he added.

According to the (previously-linked) Washington Post article by Lisa Miller, here is the problem with Romney’s canned-food donations idea:

Romney’s response to Sandy’s devastation was completely wrong. For one thing, it is nearly impossible to get granola bars and diapers from Ohio or Virginia to the displaced families in the Northeast that need them most, a fact the Red Cross made perfectly clear when it accepted the Romney campaign’s donations reluctantly and with misgivings. “Cash is king,” says Roger Lowe, a Red Cross spokesman. Financial donations “get the assistance to where it’s needed much faster.” Donations of stuff — especially from people at a distance from the disaster — mean more logistics, more man-hours for sorting and distributing the goods and higher trucking, gas and labor costs.

It’s been said many times that the real measure of a man–of any individual–is how he responds to crisis. In the last few days we have seen how two very important men have responded, in two very different ways. Very soon one of them will be handed the controls to the most powerful nation on Earth.

The question is: which man should be given that responsibility, and can be counted on to do the right thing when the next crisis arrives?

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