The 2012 presidential campaign between President Obama and Mitt Romney will be book-ended by hurricanes.
It opened with fears of a storm striking the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Remnant storms from that hurricane forced Obama to deliver his convention address from a covered venue rather than in the football stadium in Charlotte, NC.
Today, it is Hurricane Sandy that threatens the east coast of the United States. The storm has campaigns concerned about candidate travel schedules and the potential havoc that a massive cleanup effort on the east coast will have on the states involved and on those called on to help.
For example, it is next to impossible to early vote in Virginia. If there are massive downed trees and power outages still effecting the state on Election Day it will, no doubt, drive down turnout.
The Federal response to disasters has political consequences beyond how clean will the streets be by Election Day.
George W. Bush never recovered from the disturbing images of preventable deaths in the Gulf region during and after Hurricane Katrina. The incompetence of the Bush Administration was a human tragedy and an international embarrassment.
In the three years that followed, Bush never recovered. His ill advised praise for the head of FEMA “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” will forever be remembered as one of the stupidest utterances of anyone in public life.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew dealt a major blow to Bush’s father’s Presidency. Days after the storm hit there were no relief supplies in some places. In the face of a deep recession, it was a final reminder that George H.W. Bush seemed to have no ability to exercise effective control over the government.
The political and good governance lessons were not lost on Bill Clinton.
President Clinton installed his Arkansas director of natural disasters, James Lee Witt, to run FEMA. Within months Witt had remade the agency – a move that allowed for an effective federal response to massive flooding on the Mississippi that caused, what was in essence, an additional and temporary Great Lake in the middle of the country to form.
Likewise, President Obama, has run an effective emergency response system. From the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to massive tornadoes, a number of hurricanes, including massive flooding in the northeast, and record droughts the Obama team has handled natural disasters well. He has shown leadership.
The biggest problem over the last two years has been federal funding for disaster relief, with Tea Party Republicans refusing federal funding for disaster relief.
In the next ten days the American people will see our leaders face one final test on natural disasters and the American public will get one final reminder about which administrations have handled disasters with effectiveness and which have handled natural disasters with tragic incompetence.
About Bill Buck
Bill Buck is a Democratic strategist, President of the Buck Communications Group, a media relations and new media strategies consulting business based in Washington, DC, and Managing Director of the online ad firm Influence DSP. He has over twenty years of international and national communications experience. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CBS Local.