As we braced ourselves for the arrival of Sandy, thoughts naturally drifted back to the tepid federal response to Katrina as New Orleans residents fought for their lives against rising flood waters, recalling help did not arrive on time for many of them.
The federal response and coordination of aid after Katrina was one of President George W. Bush’s most dramatic failures. In first downplaying the severity of the storm, and congratulating FEMA’s then inept leadership when residents of New Orleans were literally drowning and dying, President Bush embarrassed the United States on the international stage. Throughout the world people were questioning how the most powerful nation on the planet could so callously ignore the suffering of its own.
Now, with Hurricane Sandy in the record books as one of the most devastating tropical storm systems to hit the northeast we have a vivid example of the “Tale of Two Storms.” Unlike his predecessor, President Obama has shown real leadership in the aftermath of Sandy – not to forget Irene of last year - and has been proactive in engaging the federal government on behalf of its citizens. The President has made it clear his expectation that all federal agencies will take all necessary steps to aid state governments and that he will not tolerate bureaucracy or “red tape” delaying federal aid.
President Obama also took swift action in declaring affected states federal disaster areas and made certain governors and mayors have direct access to him in the event that they are not receiving proper assistance from Washington. Even an ultra-partisan like Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has publicly praised the President’s leadership and welcomed his assistance and his decision to tour the state’s storm damaged areas. It is a dramatic departure from the confusion we witnessed under President Bush when Gulf Coast states were left begging for assistance from the federal government.
Why did Chris Christie go out of his way to professionally and personally praise and thank President Obama? Speculation abounds, especially from his fellow Republicans, but the simple explanations are likely the most accurate; Chris Christie was putting politics aside. Christie has backed up his talk of going beyond partisanship by thus far denying Romney his photo-op with Christie in the disaster area. The other possible reason is that Christie and Obama share the common goal of helping the residents of a state that was hit hardest by a natural disaster.
While the attention has been on Christie, it is easy to overlook that President Obama is also backing up his words about bipartisanship with Republicans by working with one of his biggest critics in the Republican Party. Christie has been Romney’s highest profile attack surrogate. Bipartisanship is woven into President Obama’s character and he has put doing what he thinks is right for the country ahead of his own political ambitions.
This of course brings us to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In a debate during the GOP primaries Romney expressed great disdain for federal disaster intervention and suggested states were better equipped to handle these emergencies. Romney went so far as to suggest that the private sector could do a better job in disaster relief and that federal expenditures in this area should be reduced in the wake of the federal deficit. As Hurricane Sandy released its fury there were few residents in the impacted states that agreed with Mr. Romney’s assessment. That includes Republican governors like Chris Christie who are smart enough to know that the limited resources of state government are not adequate to support residents when natural disasters strike. And the private sector is facing its own challenges recovering from the storm, let alone in a position to help others.
What is striking about the President’s decisiveness and Mitt Romney’s “the state can do it better” mantra is the clear difference in how each man regards and values American citizenship. The President sees the federal government as an enabler of opportunity and a source of protection when citizens need it most. While not devaluing states, Obama sees the federal government as ultimately responsible for the welfare of the people. Mitt Romney confuses “residency” with citizenship, and assumes that states are capable of meeting needs defined by your status as a citizen and not simply a resident of a state. It’s not that residents of New Jersey, New York and neighboring states need help getting back on their feet after Hurricane Sandy; the bigger issue is that American citizens are in need and their national government has a responsibility to help.
While Mitt Romney was in Ohio holding a fraudulent fundraiser that stands as a shining example of the cynical and manipulative phenomenon that our politics can be, Obama and Christie displayed the better angels of our political nature. Chris Christie escaped from the conservative bubble to meet Barack Obama and both men showed the country what it could be, while Mitt Romney was on the stump selling more of the partisan poison that has sickened us all for too long.
In the closing days of the 2012 presidential election cycle, Hurricane Sandy gives us the opportunity to witness real leadership in action and lays out a clear demarcation between the two candidates. For all that President George W. Bush was not in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina, and all that Mitt Romney is today, President Barack Obama has proven himself that much more and demonstrated again why he is best suited to lead this nation.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com