Commentary: Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Portrait in Leadership

The president approached the Sandy catastrophe with a decisive and compassionate hand.

Posted: 11/01/2012 01:50 PM EDT
Commentary: Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Portrait in Leadership

President Obama toured the devastation that Hurricane Sandy reaped upon New Jersey looking very much like a portrait of compassion, determination and, more than anything, powerful leadership.

From the moment the storm headed for the East Coast, Obama took swift action to lead the effort to bring federal resources to the ravaged areas. The president made unmistakably clear that the federal government has a decisive role to play in meeting the needs of Americans.

The president walked the streets of the ravaged sections of New Jersey and surveyed the wreckage by air. If nothing else, Sandy presented an opportunity for the president to look presidential. And he rose to the occasion masterfully.

For a distraught New Jersey woman who had lost her business in the storm, Obama offered an embrace that conveyed understanding and deep sympathy. In the manner of Franklin Roosevelt, Obama presented an image of the empathetic leader that Americans yearn for in times of crisis.

To the larger community of weary and devastated citizens, the president offered to use all the levers of the federal government to assist the various states. To that end, he demonstrated beyond doubt that the federal government is far from the boogeyman that Mitt Romney portrays it to be. 

So impressive was the president’s response to the hurricane that New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie shed for a moment his role as Romney surrogate to praise Obama’s hands-on handling of the crisis.

"It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey.” Christie said, lavishing thanks upon Obama, a move that ignited a furor among some Republican leaders. 

While Romney offers the irresponsible position that wholesale federal agencies – including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – should be shuttered or privatized, Obama has given new life to the once-maligned FEMA. It was an agency that looked hapless and unresponsive in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina under the presidency of George W. Bush in 2005.

Instead, the president has also used a reinvigorated FEMA to illustrate in the clearest possible way that the federal government has a responsibility to meet the needs of the nation’s citizens.

Of course, there is a political impact here. For days, the storm has completely eclipsed the media coverage of the campaign, essentially relegating Romney to invisibility and, frankly, irrelevance.

A president’s handing of a national catastrophe is news. A challenger’s activity, whatever it may be, is not. In fact, the picture of Obama and Christie locked together as partners in crisis mode has been broadcast repeatedly and been something of a news story in its own right. It certainly doesn’t hurt a president locked in a tight re-election battle to look highly presidential and bipartisan.

In the end, Americans are comforted by a leader that appears to be committed first and foremost to their most pressing needs and who takes action to meet those needs. There is little doubt that the president has provided the leadership that more than meets those criteria.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

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