If President Obama had the time for some introspection on the campaign trail, he might take offense at all the media speculation (and in many cases wishful thinking gussied up as speculation) that his response to Hurricane Sandy will give him the edge going into Election Day.
In effect, people are saying: "Obama is doing the minimum requirements of his job, what a game-changer!"
Now, one could quibble about whether he's really doing what a president should. He's handing out a bunch of checks, which is warranted, but he has staff to do that. Moreover, presidential photo ops at disaster sites aren't all that helpful. In his remarks Wednesday, the president thanked some local politicians and told people to visit the FEMA website, if they have electricity. The imperative for him to be the one delivering that message is no doubt obvious to all.
Still, the conventional wisdom is probably right that acting presidential during a crisis helps Obama politically. And it's probably true that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's praise of Obama is helping at the margins too. Though it's probably helping most in New Jersey, where Obama would win anyway -- and with the D.C. press corps, which loves both stories of bipartisanship and stories that help Obama.
But if this tragic natural disaster is boosting the president in any meaningful way, it's not because of any of that.
Before I go on, let me say that like most people, I find the scoring of natural disasters for their political impact distasteful. But it's also unavoidable. Politics is about the conduct of politicians and how they allocate taxpayer-funded resources. James Lee Witt, Bill Clinton's FEMA director, was inadvertently insightful when he said, "Disasters are very political events."
That said, to the extent that Hurricane Sandy is a boon to Obama it's because the storm saved him from himself.
During the weeks leading up to the storm, the president, vice president and the Obama campaign were being, to use a family-friendly term, jerks.
The president in particular was acting like he was auditioning for Keith Olbermann's old time slot at MSNBC.
In the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney said he didn't think it made sense to borrow millions from China to subsidize public television, including the immensely profitable outfit that owns Big Bird.
Obama's response was to mock Romney for his war on Big Bird, insinuating in ads and condescending rants (often punctuated by Obama laughing at his own jokes) that Romney thinks Big Bird is the source of all of our problems. Anyone who watched the debate knew that Obama was being both petty and dishonest.
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