President Obama appears to be exercising leadership on Hurricane Irene, making sure the proper authorities have their butts in gear and cutting his vacation short, a decision that allows him both to oversee the response and appear presidential.
According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, Obama conducted conference calls today and yesterday with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.
Such calls are more than symbolic. They let senior agency officials know that the president is watching and they will be held accountable for their actions. Presidential involvement in any exercise gets agencies in gear, from the top all the way down.
Obama also conducted a call with governors and mayors from areas that will be affected by Irene. This gets lines of communication open to help coordinate a federal and local response, and it sets expectations on all sides about what is going to be done.
While presidential aides – no matter who is president – like to pretend to reporters that the boss can do everything on the road he can do at the White House, nothing beats the Situation Room for coordinating a crisis response. Obama is doing the right thing by leaving his vacation a day early. And he will save himself some nasty political fallout and feverish criticism from people like me.
By returning with him, Mrs. Obama also avoided the disgraceful sight of her continuing to vacation while the storm raged and taking a separate, costly flight home at taxpayers’ expense.
She had initially decided to stay. I pity whoever had to tell her she couldn’t.
If either the president or Reggie Love has a black eye or appears woozy next time they appear in public, you’ll know why.