Should Kerry Have Gone to Florida?
Brendan Minter thinks so:
Maybe national emergencies shouldn’t be political events, but they are. So after Hurricane Charley ripped through Florida this past weekend, President Bush understood the political imperative: Get down there. With thousands left homeless and a million people without electricity, the president needed to walk amid the wreckage and stand with the people most affected. For those questioning his political motives in responding so quickly, Mr. Bush said simply: “If I didn’t come, they would’ve said we should have been here more rapidly.”
If 90% of success in life is just showing up, in politics often it’s the whole ball of wax. This is a lesson that John Kerry could stand to learn. It isn’t enough to be “right”; you must also be right there. Mastering and internalizing this lesson would go a lot further in showing that Mr. Kerry can lead in a crisis than boasting about his four months in Vietnam ever could. It would also reveal his more human, compassionate side. This is something Bill Clinton practiced shamelessly and Al Gore never learned. Mr. Kerry should have gone to Punta Gorda and felt their pain.
Minter is talking about political theater, and it’s quite possible that the Kerry campaign misjudged this one, as the first President Bush did after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Pragmatically, I think Bush 41 and Kerry did the right thing. The last thing that’s needed when people are trying to restore order after a hurricane is the disruption of a presidential entourage–let alone one of a presidential wannabe. It seems the thing a president should do is to stay out of the way and make sure the relief funds get sent, FEMA is activated, and so forth.
Apparently, though, people actually want symbolism over substance during times of crisis. Bill Clinton was certainly a master of that art. The current president, while not quite that adept, is much better at it than was his father. His appearance at Ground Zero a few days after the 9/11 attacks built an enormous reservoir of good will. Politics is clearly more than doing the rational thing.