Sometimes a stately posture during a debate can determine whether or not a candidate appears ‘presidential,’ but the best test is what the candidate does during a time of domestic crisis. When monster Hurricane Sandy hurled the brunt of its fury on the east coast, primarily New Jersey and New York City, this Monday we were afforded that opportunity. The differences were glaring.
Of course, President Obama has the advantage – he is, after all, currently the President of the United States and it’s his duty to react decisively and with authority whenever the country is attacked by terrorists or Mother Nature. He did just that, returning immediately to Washington D.C. from a campaign stop in Florida to confer with FEMA chief Craig Fugate and the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Transportation, Energy and Health and Human Services, along with other officials on how to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane.
In a press conference, President Obama was asked how this natural disaster might affect the election. The president answered matter-of-factually, “I’m worried about the impact on families and I’m worried about the impact on our first responders. The election will take care of itself next week. Right now our number one priority is to make sure that we are saving lives, that our search and rescue teams are going to be in place, that people are going to get the food, the water, the shelter that they need in case of emergency and that we respond as quickly as possible to get the economy back on track.” The president also pledged “no bureaucracy. No red tape” in getting relief and rescue efforts going.
On Wednesday, President Obama joined Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (at Christie’s invitation) to view the extent of damage done by the hurricane to his state’s shoreline. Governor Christie, putting politics aside, praised the president for his efforts, “I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and his compassion… I discussed all of those issues today with the president and I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things while we were in the car riding together.” The president responded, “Governor Christie, throughout this process, has been responsive, he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm… We are here for you and we will not forget, we will follow up to make sure you get all the help you need until you rebuild.”
Coming to the end of what has been a bitter, nasty presidential campaign, it was almost blissful watching a Democratic president and a Republican governor having a kumbaya moment of bipartisan cooperation. Who knew it would take the storm of the century to witness this? Of course, Chris Christie is the Republican governor of a blue state and is up for reelection in 2014, but considering his rather blunt style, his praise of President Obama in this case appears to be quite genuine. It will certainly make for some inspiring campaign commercials at least.
So what was Mitt Romney doing when Hurricane Sandy whacked the eastern seaboard with the full force of its global-warming fueled fury? Hastily shape-shifting a political Dayton, Ohio ‘victory’ rally into a “storm relief” event, complete with Mitt Romney accepting donations from the audience intended for the storm-ravaged east coast. Afraid that the tables would be bereft of donations, Romney campaign minions spent the evening before the event at a local Walmart purchasing $5000 worth of granola bars, canned food, and diapers. As it turns out, these ‘donations’ ended up as props: when rally attendees showed up empty-handed and befuddled at the change in the event’s theme, Romney operatives directed audience members to pick an item from the tables in order to ‘present’ the item to the governor, who would lavish them with a robotic smile and a hopefully-sincere sounding, “Thank you.” Never mind that the Red Cross FAQ prefers to receive money over random donations:
Unfortunately, due to logistical constraints the Red Cross does not accept or solicit individual donations or collections of items. Items such as collected food, used clothing and shoes must be sorted, cleaned, repackaged and transported which impedes the valuable resources of money, time, and personnel.
I don’t know how the Romney campaign expected to get away with this phony photo op. I mean, didn’t we just witness a similar cheesy, phony photo op with Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan? The congressman’s staff aggressively bulled their way into a Youngstown, Ohio soup kitchen on October 13 after patrons had been served and the kitchen’s staff had cleaned up. Ryan then donned a clean apron, and in front of clicking cameras, proceeded to give reporters his ‘unique’ instruction on the proper way to wash pots and pans. Never mind that the cookware was already clean and that his actions were not needed. Now, if he’d shown up earlier… Understandably, the operators of the soup kitchen were miffed at the intrusion since they consider themselves non-partisan, accepting help and donations regardless of political party. The last thing they wanted was to be pimped out by the running mate of the dude who complained, in front of wealthy campaign donors, that the less fortunate in this country felt “entitled” to assistance.
But beyond the shameless photo ops, one more of Mitt Romney’s pathological flip-flops have come to roost on his shoulders once again: his anti-FEMA remarks during the Republican primary debates, calling disaster relief “immoral” because it would add to the deficit (I suppose, according to Governor Romney, the cost of managing a war has no impact on the deficit…especially when you can leave the cost of that war off the budget books):
In 2011, during the heat of the Republican primary, the GOP candidate said during a debate that he would support cuts to federal disaster relief as part of an overall plan to reduce the deficit.
“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” Romney told debate moderator John King. “And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?”
When John King interrupted to clarify, “Including disaster relief?” Romney continued, “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.” (h/t Slate)
Of course, Romney has recently reversed his position regarding FEMA funding thanks to Hurricane Sandy’s wrath and its devastating aftermath. One has to wonder, however, if the governor’s original opinion would have changed had the monster hurricane not hit the east coast a week before the election? Considering how often Romney has altered his opinions to suit the electorate, I doubt his opinion of FEMA has changed at all. He is clearly a candidate who will say whatever he needs to say in order to garner votes. I certainly don’t want to wait until after the election to discover that I’m right.