When Chris Christie delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention in August, he had some choice words for President Obama. “It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House,” Christie thundered. If he ever genuinely believed that Obama was an “absentee leader,” the New Jersey governor has certainly had a dramatic change of mind. With his state confronting a historic level of destruction courtesy of Superstorm Sandy, Christie has been full of praise for his "pro-active leadership." This morning, he said, “The federal government’s response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president; personally, he has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area. The President has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA.”
Obama has indeed appeared to be at his calm, commanding best during this crisis. He has made the case not only for himself but also—indirectly, but unmistakably—for the indispensible role that government can and must play in times like these. He doesn’t need to overtly “politicize” the crisis. His best political move is to do his job well. The eternal American debate over the role of government is the central issue of this election, with Obama championing the positive role that government can play and Romney embracing Tea Party and Chamber of Commerce Republicans' quest to drown government in a bathtub. (Note to Grover Norquist: Don't use that metaphor any time soon.)
The contrast between the two candidates’ most visible public appearances today spoke volumes. This morning, Romney accepted boxes of canned food and clothing at a quasi-campaign rally in Ohio. Attendees reportedly had to hold onto their donations for 40 minutes, waiting for Romney to arrive and be photographed accepting them. Afterward, as the cameras captured him loading boxes onto a truck, reporters hollered questions about his stated intention of turning over disaster relief to the states—or, even better, to the “private sector.” Romney ignored them, of course.
The president, meanwhile, visited Red Cross headquarters in Washington and spoke to those suffering from the effects of the storm: "The most important message I have for them is that America's with you. We are standing behind you and we are going to do everything we can to help you get back on your feet," he said. Somehow, it sounded a bit better than “Don’t worry, Halliburton will handle it.”
So They Say
“I was actually listening closely to what the candidates said in these debates. In the first debate, the triumph of the moderate Mitt Romney. You remember what he did? He ridiculed the president. Ridiculed the president for his efforts to fight global warming in economically beneficial ways. He said, ‘Oh, you’re going to turn back the seas.’ In my part of America, we would like it if someone could’ve done that yesterday.”
—Bill Clinton, campaigning today in Minneapolis
Daily Meme: No Time for Politics?
- Hurricane Sandy left long-lasting destruction and subdued politics in its wake. Well, somewhat subdued politics. Electioneering goes on, if in whispered tones.
- The campaigns' grassroots foot soldiers have certainly not stood down.
- Romney held a campaign—no, “storm relief”—event in Ohio, a location chosen for no special reason or anything. But, to his credit, he didn't make an overtly political speech.
- Obama has no campaign events scheduled for today or tomorrow, but handling the crisis well has the benefit of making him look like an attractive commander-in-chief.
- Besides, he has Vice President Biden and former President Clinton to stand in for him on the trail.
- While the presidential candidates pretend to disengage from campaigning, other political actors and observers have no qualms teasing out the politics of the storm.The New York Times editorial board editorialized that the effective governmental response to Sandy so far is proof that—contrary to Romney's previous statements—big storms require big government.
- Jonathan Chait thinks that all Democrats should politicize the hell out of the storm.
- Dana Milbank begs to differ: "It may be heresy to say so, just one week before a presidential election, but some things are bigger than politics."
- Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama is already politicizing the crisis.
- But regardless of how the campaigns try to use the storm to their advantage, the weather could certainly play games with the electoral tally as it has been wont to do in the past.
What We're Writing
- The Prospect’s best 2012 campaign reporting and analysis has been helpfully compiled on our homepage.
- Robert Kuttner challenges the austerity lobby: “Fix the Debt, Destroy the Recovery.”
What We're Reading
- Be very afraid: Tim Murphy lays out seven nightmare election scenarios.
- If millions lack power next Tuesday, could the election be postponed?
- Early voting has changed the rhythm of the election, and more importantly for swing-state voter Bill Dorsey, “If I drop dead before Election Day, my vote still counts.”
- Lizz Winstead's idea for all that super PAC dough? Why not give it to hurricane victims?
- Michael Tomasky picks apart “Romney’s Closing Con Game”—i.e., his pretense of being a uniter.
- We are not making this up: The infamous “Brownie,” George W. Bush’s FEMA director who botched the Katrina recovery, criticizes Obama for responding to Sandy too early.
Poll of the Day
For most of the year, the Massachusetts Senate race has looked like a toss-up. But according to a Suffolk University poll released today, Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren has opened up a seven-point lead on Senator Scott Brown. The numbers show that the Brown campaign’s “Fauxahontas” attacks on Warren have backfired; only 30 percent of voters have a negative impression of her, versus 42 percent who view the Republican negatively.
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.