Natural disasters usually follow the same political trajectory: First the incumbent experiences a bounce as he tours the impacted area, shows his concern, and pledges help to his beleaguered constituents. But then reality sets in and the shortages, delays, mishaps, deaths, and devastation becomes apparent and people turn against the incumbent.
George W. Bush had his Katrina.
And now Barack Obama has his Sandy.
Last week, Obama asserted a kind of ownership of the storm by touring New Jersey in the now infamous embrace of Republican stalwart Governor Chris Christie. Now that we are all appalled by the lack of food, gas, water, heat, and the basic essentials of life throughout the storm zone, Obama’s government doesn’t look so good anymore.
Why didn’t FEMA stockpile food, water, and gasoline? We had a week’s notice to prepare for Sandy. There was no shortage of time. Did the government not realize that people needed to eat, drink, and drive?
All throughout America, we are asking these questions of our television sets as we watch the evolving story of human misery.
Meanwhile, Obama has resumed the campaign trail, pounding the opposition in the same relentless and partisan style which he used before the storm. When Obama said that voting was “the best revenge,” he threw away whatever presidentiality he displayed in touring storm damage earlier in the week.
As he entered the last week before the Congressional election of 1994, President Clinton returned to the U.S. after having presided over the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. He called me on his return and asked where he should campaign? Which incumbent Democrats should he try to help get re-elected?
I told him he should not campaign for any of them.
“No, you don’t understand,” he explained. I just came back from the Middle East and my ratings are up ten points. Before, I would have hurt the candidates I campaigned for, but not now. Now I can help them.”
“Your ratings are up because your trip hyped your presidentiality. Now, if you start campaigning, you’ll look like a politician and your ratings will come down again. You’ll end up doing more harm than good to those you are trying to help.”
He disregarded the advice and lost both houses of Congress in the elections.
Now Obama is making the same mistake. By campaigning, particularly by using the same harsh partisan rhetoric which has characterized his campaign, Obama is dragging down his ratings and with it his chances of victory.
Particularly when we see the juxtaposition of the mounting disaster in New York and New Jersey and the President out on the campaign trail attacking his opponents, we realize that Obama is a candidate before he is president, more worried about his second term than the welfare of his constituents.
In yesterday’s polling numbers, I saw a rise in Obama’s ratings and warned that the race was far from over. Now, we see him throwing it all away and resuming his crash into a single term presidency.