Yesterday I wrote that the inevitable analogies that will be drawn by the liberal media between Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina are a gift to the Democrats. Just how much the public will make of these specious comparisons has yet to be determined, but one must give those members of President Obama’s cheerleading squad who write the editorials at the New York Times credit for trying. The paper’s lead editorial today was exactly along the lines that I predicted. It pompously claimed the storm “is a powerful reminder both of Republican incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina seven years ago” and then piled on to the mythology behind that clause by also asserting that the storm also spotlights “the party’s no-less-disastrous plans to further cut emergency-related spending.”
Suffice it to say that seven years later attempts to blame the Katrina disaster solely on President Bush and his party is absurd, since we now know that most of the problems stemmed from the incompetence, if not the moral turpitude, displayed by local and state authorities. The argument that GOP demands that other savings offset more FEMA expenditures is somehow an invitation to catastrophe is just as dishonest. But as much as liberals are chortling at the Republicans’ bad luck with the weather, they need to be careful not to overplay their hand. While the GOP needs to be aware that a potential storm disaster is more important than their gathering, President Obama must be mindful that any actions of his own this week that can be interpreted as trying to make political hay out of a tragedy will backfire.
Though President Bush’s appointees did a terrible job in 2005, it is long past time for liberal organs to stop trying to paint the failure of the levees in New Orleans as a Republican problem or a racist plot. It is equally absurd for the Times to paint battles over the FEMA budget in apocalyptic terms. To paint every dollar expended by the agency as somehow the difference between life and death is mere melodrama, since we know that the federal office is just as capable of inefficiency as it is incompetence. Nor was it improper for Republicans who are mindful of the way President Obama has ballooned the federal deficit in a way that makes Bush’s profligacy look like prudence to ask that any overspending by FEMA (which they were prepared to approve) be paid for by cuts in less essential programs that are liberal sacred cows.
Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that the bad timing of the storm and the attempts by liberals to wave the bloody shirt of Katrina won’t help Mitt Romney’s cause. It should also be specified that if federal authorities are seen to be doing their jobs in an appropriate manner during any relief operations in the Gulf it will be a boost for President Obama, who will be viewed as doing his job effectively.
However, the president needs to be careful about playing commander-in-chief in ways that are tangential or even a distraction from the real business of helping people. As President Bush noted in his memoirs, he waited to fly into New Orleans after the hurricane because he knew that a presidential visit with all of the attendant security and logistical complications that it would cause was the last thing the devastated area needed. The same standard would apply to any superfluous Obama fly-in to the storm areas this week. Once the crisis is over, a presidential visit is appropriate as a gesture of solidarity with those affected. But if President Obama seeks to use an unnecessary piece of stagecraft in the upcoming days merely to upstage the GOP convention or Mitt Romney’s acceptance of his nomination, it won’t do him or his party any good.
Americans are smart enough to know the difference between proper supervision of a crisis and political photo-ops. If the president opts for the latter, his fans at the Times and elsewhere, who are now barely containing their mirth at the GOP’s predicament, will be laughing out of the other sides of their mouths.