The president as first-responder-in-chief

Mitt Romney joins those who are piling on President Obama over the response to the BP oil spill disaster. He finds Obama’s response inadequate when measured against Rudy Giuliani’s action in the aftermath of 9/11. But I dont see a strong relationship between responding to a one-off attack on two buildings and responding to the gradual spread of oil that we lack the know-how to contain.
Romney also invokes Presidents Washington, Adams, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan and Kennedy. We can only speculate how they might have done in fighting the spread of oil, but it’s safe to say that none of them made his bones as first-responder-in-chief. Benjamin Franklin would have been a better bet.
The first-responder-in-chief concept has some appeal to the left, but I saw little merit in it during Hurricane Katrina, and I see little now. Its appeal to conservatives may, in some cases, reside mostly in opportunism.
For his part, Romney urges Obama to “camp out” near the Gulf and inspire experts to think up a solution. This strikes me as magical thinking.
I would argue that, as a general matter, it makes more sense for a president to devote his energy to worrying about problems and disasters that haven’t yet occurred and that, therefore, can perhaps be prevented, than to become absorbed in the technological ins-and-outs of the response to a disaster that has already occurred. In the case of Obama, though, it might be just as well if he spins his wheels in the Gulf for a while.


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