Superstorm Sandy was devastating, a disaster of epic proportions that has shook the Northeast at its very core. Living in Brooklyn, I was lucky enough to avoid the brunt of it, but its effects linger. The destruction of homes, transportation lines, and even human life are beyond tragic. There are some who have suggested that the response to the storm must supersede politics: that even though an election is five days away, the storm cannot be part of it. Yet the government’s response to such an event is inherently political.
One of the main purposes, if not the main purpose, of our government is to protect its citizens. To this end, President Obama, working with a Democrat (Governor Andrew Cuomo), a Republican (Governor Chris Christie) and an independent (Mayor Michael Bloomberg) has been exceedingly competent. The response has been swift, devoid of red tape, and has demonstrated the best of government in a truly awful situation.
Thus, Sandy actually gives the president an opportunity to give his campaign a reboot, five days out of the election. And it is entirely appropriate for the administration, potentially implicitly, to use the storm to make their point that over the last four years, the president consistently gets it done. The process might not always be pretty, and the president, as many have noted, is his own worst storyteller. But time and time again, just like in the response to Sandy, Obama has gotten it done.
Somehow, potentially because the administration has been so inept at talking about its own successes, a narrative has formed that Obama has done few “big things.” In David Brooks’ tepid “endorsement” of Mitt Romney in Monday’s New York Times, he makes an argument that a second Obama term would be “about reasonably small things.” His reasoning, which others like the Des Moines Register have followed, is that Washington has hardened so much under Obama that it will remain impossible for anything to get done.
The problem with that argument is that Obama has accomplished big things in his first term, though not everyone agrees with his policies. But over four years, he brought the economy back from the brink of collapse with his $750 billion stimulus, passed the biggest health care overhaul in more than fifty years, confirmed two Supreme Court justices without a hitch (which his two predecessors could not do), ended the war in Iraq, killed Osama bin Laden, and passed significant financial reforms. Again, not all of these may have met the approval of the entire nation, but time and time again, Obama got it done.
His argument over these next five days needs to focus on this narrative. He has been criticized for not having a vision for his second term, for losing the inspiring rhetoric, for failing to unite the country. Some of that is valid. But when Sandy hit the Northeast, Obama was exceedingly competent. He got it done. That’s what we want in a president.
And if I were a betting man, I’d wager that, partially because of his incredibly effective response to Sandy, this competence will send Obama to a second term. Sandy has become a political event, in the sense that government should be about getting things done. Obama did. And he will, over the next four years.