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How To Politicize a Hurricane

It remains to be seen whether Irene turns out to be the Comet Kohoutek of hurricanes, but President Obama is taking no chances. He posed for a photo-op today, pretending to have something to do with the potentially-severe weather event. AFP headlined: “Obama takes charge at hurricane command center.”

US President Barack Obama warned the US east coast was in for a “long 72 hours” as he led his government’s response to Hurricane Irene at a disaster command center in Washington.

Obama on Saturday chaired a meeting at the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) set up at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, which is marshaling federal and local hurricane-relief efforts.

“This is going to be a tough slog getting through this thing,” Obama said during a video teleconference including senior federal officials and local government agencies in the east coast path of Irene. “It’s going to be a long 72 hours. Obviously a lot of families are going to be affected … the biggest concern I’m having right now has to do with flooding and power,” Obama said during the videoconference. …

“The President was briefed on the current track of the storm, the weather impacts being felt so far and efforts to pre-position response and recovery assets,” said a statement released by the White House. “The President asked to be kept apprised of developments throughout the night and said that he wants the group to re-convene tomorrow morning.”

I’m sure it’s a relief to everyone on the East Coast to know that Obama is personally directing hurricane response efforts. Never mind that he isn’t competent to organize a Little League baseball team; today’s charade obviously is a corollary of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, in which America’s mass media committed group malpractice, somehow managing to blame the inevitable consequences of a severe weather event, magnified by incompetent local authorities in New Orleans, on the Bush administration. Obama is setting the stage to receive praise, rather than blame, no matter what actually happens between now and when Hurricane Irene blows itself out.

This is one more step in the degradation of American politics. One hundred years ago, people understood that the president had nothing to do with hurricanes. Now, the president is expected to pretend to have control over more or less everything. This has something to do with the inexorable expansion of federal power, and also something to do with the dumbing-down of the American people.

If the baleful effects of Hurricane Irene actually turned on the personal efforts of Barack Obama, God help us. But of course they don’t. I can think offhand of one instance where a chief executive contributed positively to disaster relief. It happened in my home state of South Dakota; there was flooding somewhere–the Missouri River, I suppose–and then-Governor Bill Janklow showed up to help tote sandbags. Janklow had his faults, but along with being a top-notch lawyer and a generally excellent governor, he also was a man who was fully capable of hauling sandbags. I don’t expect Barack Obama to make any similarly tangible contribution.

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