Steve's Blog

Harvey

A once-in-500-years weather event is plowing its way through Texas and Louisiana. People in the path of tropical storm (hurricane) Harvey are at risk of losing their homes, their belongings, their pets, their peace of mind, and in some tragic cases, their very lives. Our primary concern must be for the safety and welfare of those directly affected.

But if you’ve been watching the media coverage of this unfolding natural disaster, you’ve undoubtedly seen some speculation and opining about President Trump’s handling of it thus far. And what impact that handling might have on political fortunes in the future.

Well, weather events, and the handling thereof by those in charge of addressing them, can most certainly affect the political scene. Here are a few examples. First example – back in 1969, John Lindsay was mayor of New York City when about 15 inches of snow covered the Big Apple. Unfortunately, almost half the city’s snow removal equipment had been so poorly maintained, that it was unusable, so the snow just sat there, and sat there, and sat there. If you needed transportation by bus, or taxi, or your garbage picked up, as they say in New York, fuhgeddaboudit.

When Mayor Lindsay appeared in public, he was booed and heckled for the poor performance of his administration during this time of need. Prior to this debacle, he’d been seriously considered as a possible presidential candidate, but when he finally tried to make a run at it, his campaign fizzled, largely as a result of his poor handling of the 1969 snowstorm.

Likewise, a decade later, 1979 to be exact, Michael Bilandic was mayor of Chicago when the Blizzard of ’79 hit that city. The bottom line is, he was as feckless in Chicago as John Lindsay had been in New York. As a result, he lost the upcoming Democratic primary for Mayor, and the late Jane Byrne took his place.

And of course the precedent the media has been pointing to as a warning to Trump, is President George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. They’ve resurrected (over and over) the photo of President Bush staring impotently out the window of Air Force One, as people suffered and drowned below. I’d hoped to never again hear the words “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”, but they’ve been resurrected as well. A close study of Katrina, I believe, puts far more blame on Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin than on President Bush for the shortcomings of Hurricane Katrina’s handling, but there was plenty of blame to go around.

That brings us back to the current weather challenge we’re facing – Harvey. Thus far, President Trump appears to be handling federal efforts reasonably well. He visited Texas yesterday along with the first lady, and referring to the emergency effort underway, said he hopes people will look back and say “this is the way to do it.”

The focus should stay on doing everything possible at the federal, state, and local level, to bring relief to those suffering as a result of this devastating natural disaster. Unfortunately, if the past tells us anything about the future, there will be a lot of finger-pointing in the not too distant future (in fact, to some degree, it’s happening already.) And yes, we must always fully review our response to disasters, natural or otherwise, so we can make improvements for the next time. But the politicization of natural disasters, and other crises, which sometimes strike our nation, divides us rather than brings us together.

I hope our elected representatives will rise above the usual political bickering. (But don’t hold your breath.)

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