Cyclone Sandy & Federal Relief Efforts
Cyclone Sandy was technically
downgraded from hurricane status but remains highly disruptive. Both the
Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan campaigns temporarily suspended frenetic activity.
This reflects practical impossibility of moving through the storm region, but
also more fundamental considerations.
the White House and associated agencies are expected to provide effective
leadership in mitigating national disasters, which until the twentieth century
were fatalistically viewed as unavoidable ‘acts of God.'
transformed newspapers by adding graphic, sometimes shocking, visual images to
text. Radio and television greatly expanded the capacity of the news to
communicate the emotional, human aspects of events. The Internet and
increasingly visual as well as audio cell phones carry the process further.
George W. Bush suffered serious political damage from public perception that he
was both ineffective and uncaring in reaction to the Hurricane Katrina
very widely distributed photo showed Bush in Air Force One, gazing down at the
floodwaters far, far below. Combined with news that an unqualified socialite
buddy was in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the
image of Bush far above the fray proved costly.
contrast, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt established the precedent of immediate
direct White House involvement after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. His
initiatives included a quick Congressional appropriation of $2.5 million, a
radical move as well as substantial sum for that time.
USS Chicago rescued 20,000 people, still one of the largest amphibious
evacuations in history. Soldiers distributed food, water and medical supplies.
methods also restored order. An estimated five hundred looters were shot by
soldiers and police, including thirty-four men who attempted to rob U.S. Mint
and Treasury buildings that contained $239 million in bullion and cash.
further great expansion of the U.S. approach to disaster relief, including
overseas efforts, was developed by Herbert Hoover. During and after the First
World War, he led the enormous U.S. Food Administration and American Relief
Administration, credited with preventing mass starvation in Europe.
1927, Commerce Secretary Hoover spearheaded an enormous humanitarian effort
after huge Mississippi River flooding. Hoover was confirmed - temporarily - as
a Great American Hero, securing the White House.
1965, Hurricane Betsy became the first Gulf Coast storm to create more than $1
billion in damage. Pres. Lyndon Johnson immediately flew to New Orleans and
spent many hours visiting storm victims, slogging through water to isolated
shacks. Follow-up federal relief was comprehensive.
Obama must equal this tradition - or pay a price.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen
Distinguished Professor at Carthage
College and author of
‘After the Cold War' (Palgrave/Macmillan and NYU Press). He can be reached at