As President Barack Obama attempts to manage the the recovery from Hurricane Sandy just days before the presidential election, he is receiving some unsolicited advice from arguably the worst possible source: former FEMA Director Michael Brown.
Brown, who oversaw the tragically mismanaged disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (and was famously told “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” by then-President George W. Bush), has resurfaced with some very curious statements on disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy. On Monday, Brown told the Denver Westword that the Obama administration was actually responding to Sandy too quickly.
“One thing he’s gonna be asked is, why did he jump on [the hurricane] so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in…Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas?” Brown asked of the president. “Why was this so quick?”
Apparently not content to make one embarrassing headline and slink back into obscurity, Brown expanded on his comments on a radio show that he co-hosts with David Sirota. While Brown said that he had no substantive criticism of the Obama administration’s response, he also claimed that Obama squandered a political opportunity by not getting “more mileage” out of the tragedy.
The president should have just—he could have just made a comment while he was in Florida that says, “you know my FEMA director is on top of this and we’re gonna do everything we can when the states ask us to come in and help.” Boom. …
He would have been better served politically to let everybody else—Bloomberg, Christie, Cuomo, O’Donnell [sic] – all of them make whatever statements they were going to make. Call for their evacuations. And then he could have stepped up, very presidentially, and said “And by the way, I have instructed my FEMA director to give the states whatever they need as the storm approaches.” I think he would have gotten more mileage out of it. In other words, he peaked too soon.
Audio of the interview is available below, via ThinkProgress
The irony of Brown lecturing anyone on the politics of disaster relief is almost too rich to believe, given how Hurricane Katrina played out politically for the Bush administration. After the federal government left the city drowning for days — getting maximum “mileage” out of the crisis, as Brown might put it — public opinion turned sharply against the Bush White House, and President Bush’s image never really recovered. Bush would later say that musician Kanye West’s infamous post-Katrina accusation that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” marked the “all-time low” point of his presidency.
As for Brown, he resigned from FEMA in disgrace two weeks after Katrina hit New Orleans. He briefly re-entered the public eye in 2011 when he published a book calling George W. Bush a “fratboy” who “didn’t get” the seriousness of the situation in New Orleans. In retrospect, the charge seems odd; after all, by waiting for days before providing tangible support to the suffering people of New Orleans, Bush essentially followed Brown’s advice for President Obama.