President Obama’s Response to Hurricane Sandy
In spite of being the acknowledged winner of two of the three Presidential Debates, President Obama has not gotten much of a bump in the polls. Many “experts” are calling the election too close to call. I come at the issue from the perspective of an average citizen who’s watched Presidential races closely since 1960. Additionally, after spending 28 years in the military, I know a little something about leadership qualities. Here’s my bottom line up front. Could Hurricane Sandy be the President’s “Win One for the Gipper” speech; a moment that will put him over the top and win the election for him?
In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll in response to how the public rated both candidates handling of Hurricane Sandy, the vote was as follows
Not so good or poor 8%
No so good 13%
Some might say who is the “Gipper” and what has this got to do with the election? The phrase comes from a famous speech given by Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne to his players at half time in 1928 when they were losing to Army. It was also the worst season the famous coach had at the school. To inspire his players, Rockne told them of his last conversation with the school’s greatest player, George Gipp, who died at a very young age. According to the Notre Dame web site, most historians don’t believe Rockne’s version of the conversation was true, but a movie starring future President Ronald Reagan as Gipp, made the words part of popular sports lore: “Rock, sometime, when the team is up against it—and the breaks are beating the boys—tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper…”. Notre Dame did go on to beat Army. Coach Rockne’s speech was a game changer.
Here’s the relevance: the best lecture I ever heard on the role of the President was given by Dr. Julius Maestro during my undergraduate years at Drew University. He said the President had three full time jobs: the Symbolic head of the nation, the head legislator, and the head of his political party. For the average citizen, I believe you can only judge accurately on two of the three roles, the symbol and legislative piece. You judge the symbol part by observing how he or hopefully someday SHE handles himself in crises and in important speeches. You judge the second by seeing first if he is able to get his agenda through Congress and as a result by seeing if your life has changed for the better or worse while he is in office.
Some will dispute this second point saying the state and local governments make the most impact on your life. In response, I say there are some issues that transcend the individual states. During the Eisenhower years my father, an Army Vet, had used the GI bill to undergo training as a machinist but was unable to find a good job. Under the Kennedy/Johnson administrations, as a result of the civil rights legislation my father was able to get a job and buy a home and move his family out of the ghetto. Added benefits were also the ability as we traveled south to visit family to eat in restaurants, use rest rooms, and stay in hotels. All of which had been denied before federal laws removed restrictions.
I think the President hit a home run for his “Symbol” credentials during the crisis caused by Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a staunch Romney supporter was quoted as saying: “I have to say, the administration, the president, himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far,” Christie said on Good Morning America. “We have a great partnership with them.”
I was pretty impressed with the speech the President made at Red Cross headquarters a couple of days ago. Here’s the part that I thought showed his leadership qualities:
“And so my instructions to the federal agency has been, do not figure out why we can’t do something; I want you to figure out how we do something. I want you to cut through red tape. I want you to cut through bureaucracy. There’s no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency to lean forward and to make sure that we are getting the resources where they need — where they’re needed as quickly as possible.
So I want to repeat — my message to the federal government: No bureaucracy, no red tape. Get resources where they’re needed as fast as possible, as hard as possible, and for the duration, because the recovery process obviously in a place like New Jersey is going to take a significant amount of time. The recovery process in a lower Manhattan is going to take a lot of time.”
It’s just my opinion but I think this speech along with the President’s actions will prove to be a game changer. Governor Romney is at a distinct disadvantage because he was not really in a position to show leadership skills during this crisis. He has also come under criticism because of previous comments. In an op-ed, Senator Barbara Boxer of California said the following:
“During a Republican primary debate last year, Governor Romney was asked whether the federal role in emergency management should be handed over to the states. ‘Absolutely,’ he responded. ‘Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better’.”
I’ll leave it to the political “experts” to call the election but if President Obama wins, I suspect this last minute “Gipper” moment gets a lot of the credit. As always, my views are my own.
Gail Harris is a Truman Security Fellow.