This is a moment for the president to show that he is not W. No reading My Pet Goat, no flyovers while New Orleans drowns, no phoney aircraft carrier landings. Now is the time for President Obama to show proactive leadership.
There is an unprecedented storm coming. Obama needs to do an Oval Office broadcast and tell the American people just what the federal government is doing to prepare for it. The he needs to give a synopsis of what the governors of the relevant states are doing to prepare for it. Then he needs to tell us what he wants us to do to prepare for it, and during it because communications may be down for a while.
If he can pull it together in time he should announce some website or other information clearinghouse that folks can use to access information. A cellphone app or text service would not be a bad idea either, since most modern landline phone systems are now dependent on electricity.
On 9/11, it was Primary Day in NY. I was at the campaign HQ of Tom Suozzi who was in a primary with now New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, working on the first election monitoring program I had ever designed. Tom, who was running to be Nassau County Executive, was, I believe, at Penn Station meeting the trains full of commuters as they arrived for work to remind them to vote for him.
Then the planes hit. Tom called HQ and told us to gather up the resources we procured for GOTV, hundreds of box lunches for the volunteers, rented cellphones, vans for driving voters to the polls and volunteers to canvass and move it all to Glen Cove City Hall (Tom was then Mayor of Glen Cove) and set up City Hall as a crisis center. Workers installed a phone bank in the City Council conference room for evacuees to use to call their loved ones and let them know they were safe. Glen Cove at that time had a ferry system that connected us to lower Manhattan. He called up the ferry company and had them divert as many boats as possible to evacuation. He had the police and fire department set up a command center at the fire house. He got on our local news and asked for doctors and nurses and EMTs to come to Glen Cove to be ferried into lower Manhattan. Within a couple hours Glen Cove had the most efficient evacuation operation going that you could imagine.
Hundreds and hundreds of people were safely evacuated, were fed, called home and were started on their journeys home that day. That’s when I knew I was backing the right candidate. Last year, during Hurricane Irene, we had a different County Executive. The best he could manage was to hold a hearing long after the fact to explore why Long Island Power Authority was useless during the blackout and why the LIPA person who was embedded in his emergency bunker could not get any information out of LIPA.
President Obama needs to have a Tom Suozzi moment here. He has to act fast, act decisively and do what Ronald Reagan would do at a time like this, get in front of a camera and address the nation from the Oval Office.