Storms of epic proportions are a challenge to everyone near or directly affected by them. Those who suffer in these storms look to their government leaders for help and guidance. Elected officials have a different role, which can make or break their careers. Hurricane Sandy was a test to see which politicians were or were not real leaders.
President Obama, mindful of the Hurricane Katrina debacle under George W. Bush, took on the title of “comforter in chief” in a way that elevated that office to a new level. As soon as it was safe for him to go and not be a distraction to the emergency personnel on the ground, he visited as many places as possible with soothing words and offers of help.
The president’s swift and sincere response was a sharp contrast to President Bush, who made an aerial visit to all of the states impacted by Katrina but never left Air Force One to let the millions of suffering citizens know that he felt their pain. To this day the country has not forgotten Bush’s praise for his incompetent FEMA administrator, whom he lauded as doing “a heck of a job.”
Photos of Obama embracing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the decimated Jersey shore subjected Christie to tons of backbiting comments from party regulars who viewed his embrace as some kind of treason. Christie has since pointed out many times that he “didn’t give a damn about the presidential election,” as he had a responsibility to all of the affected residents.
There’s no doubt that the show of bipartisanship may have had some impact on the election results, but imagine what the outcry would have been if Obama had sat in his plush seat on Air Force One and never ventured out to talk to the community members in pain. There are many benefits to being an incumbent, but you have to act aggressively to enjoy them.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rose to the occasion more than any other governor in recent history. Throughout the storm he was a commanding presence on television and radio, providing up-to-date reports on stalled subway and commuter services and road closings. Cuomo issued hundreds of warnings to residents and signed numerous executive orders on gasoline price-gouging and other storm-related issues.