Disasters are inherently political, because government is political, and preventing and responding to disasters is a primary role of the state. But there is an innate tension in overtly politicizing a disaster. At the moment of greatest urgency, emotions run so hot that it’s hard to fairly assess the costs and benefits of disaster response. On the other hand, moments of normality are too cool, and it is far too easy to minimize the costs of preparing for an eventuality that is far from the horizon.
What you are going to see over the next week is an overt effort by Democrats to politicize the issue of disaster response. They’re right to do it. Conservatives are already complaining about this, but the attempt to wall disaster response off from politics in the aftermath of a disaster is an attempt to insulate Republicans from the consequences of their policies.
The GOP is the party arguing for splurging on a long vacation at the beach rather than repairing the roof. Naturally, they want to have this argument only when it’s sunny and never when it’s raining. There’s no reason to accommodate them.
And as long as it doesn’t interfere with the relief efforts, I say go for it.
I sure hope that no one is so naive as to think that President Obama’s very visible 24/7 stewardship of the response by FEMA and various government agencies was not due in large part to the lessons learned from Katrina and the BP spill in 2010. Sure, you can hope that he would have done it anyway, and I have no doubt that he would have, but perhaps he wouldn’t have been so subconsciously aware of the photo-ops, too. Even Mitt Romney’s clunky attempt to turn his political rally into a GOP version of Live-Aid, complete with singers and a can drive (which is exactly what the Red Cross said they don’t need) showed that the Republicans, when pushed to the wall, can awkwardly look like they give a damn about people who lost their homes and had no second home to go to. (Mr. Romney compared this to cleaning up a football field. Seriously.)
So if the recovery is made easier and people get the help they need quicker, there’s nothing at all wrong with making the point along the way that when it comes to that sort of thing, there is a political message that goes along with it.