Hurricane optics: how important is "looking presidential?"

Everyone is wondering how the “optics” of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath will affect the presidential election.  Obviously, the sitting President has more to do with disaster relief than his challenger, which gives him opportunities to “look presidential.”  President Obama duly sat for some photo ops in which he held a telephone and looked deeply concerned.  The defensive nature of such optics is important to remember – it would be deadly for any incumbent to appear even slightly disconnected during a hurricane aftermath.  The winds of Hurricane Katrina will forever blow through the windmills of the media mind.

Unquestionably, one of Obama’s greatest political advantages to come in the wake of Hurricane Sandy is the domestication of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Christie was formerly an outspoken critic of the President, and one of Mitt Romney’s most forceful surrogates, but now he has nothing but gushing praise for Obama’s handling of the disaster.

???I have to say, the administration, the president,  himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far,??? Christie said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” praising his “great partnership” with the Administration.

???He worked on that last night with me???offered any other assets that we needed to help,??? Christie added, referring to President Obama. ???I want to thank the President personally for his personal attention to this.???  The Drudge Report led with this image on Wednesday morning:

Christie has a lot on his plate, and he’s been blunt in interviews about his complete focus on dealing with the hurricane’s aftermath, to exclusion of political concerns.  He’s also visibly heartbroken by the destruction visited upon the Jersey Shore.  The hyper-politicization of everything is one of the more unpleasant aspects of living in the shadow of Big Government, so Christie deserves credit for his honesty and determination to fulfill his duty to his constituents.  It will be interesting to learn if future historians credit this honesty with helping to sink the campaign of the man he worked so hard to support during all but the final days of the presidential election.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign, unlike Obama’s, kept its promise to avoid fundraising emails during the storm and its immediate aftermath.  (The Obama campaign was still pumping out emails from the First Lady, offering to raffle off “two of the best seats in the house on Election Night” in Chicago in exchange for donations.  They were also almost comically desperate to keep their phone banks running during the storm.)  The media will not make any kind of stink about this, so it will cost Obama nothing – many of his supporters will march into the polls on Election Day convinced Obama really did shut down all fundraising activities during the storm.

Romney also converted his campaign appearances into food drives and efforts to collect money for disaster relief, which is just about the best thing a candidate who isn’t the sitting President could possibly do.  Amazingly, as NewsBusters reports, Romney was actually ridiculed for this on MSNBC, whose hack squad castigated him for collecting food when the Red Cross prefers cash… while failing to inform their viewers that Romney was also running two huge TV screens asking attendees at his rally to donate to the Red Cross, and providing the text-message number to immediately do so.

Somehow the MSNBC goons actually think this episode proves Obama is more “compassionate” than Romney, despite Romney’s titanic personal donations to charity, and the inconvenient fact that he currently possesses no official power to do anything more than he has.  Naturally, they would never have been willing to extend the same benefit of superior “compassion” if this were incumbent President John McCain handling federal disaster relief, while challenger Hillary Clinton turned her tour bus into a mobile relief center… even though the liberal neural programming that equates compassion solely and entirely with government programs is incredibly powerful.  They can find ways to easily halt that programming when it would benefit a Republican against Democrat challengers.

Are these hurricane optics really going to matter in the election?  Will four years of Obama’s horrific record, along with the dead of Benghazi, vanish behind a few days of post-disaster coordination?  It’s always tough to say what will most influence the last-minute decisions of late-breaking swing voters.  Stranger things than this have shifted the balance of power in elections.  On the other hand, there are still a couple of news cycles to go before the election, and events to come may in turn displace Hurricane Sandy as a political factor.  It would be comforting to think that very few Americans will make their historic voting decision, one way or the other, based primarily on news headlines in the first days of November… particularly on an issue that, by definition, can only benefit the incumbent, unless he handles it badly enough to create a political disaster.