In Irene, Politicians Navigate Tides Of Public Opinion President Obama, like every other politician in America, has the lessons of Hurricane Katrina seared into his memory. During and after Hurricane Irene, he and his team appeared on top of the situation. But natural disasters are one of the ironies of politics — a competent response won't help much, but an incompetent one can really hurt.
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In Irene, Politicians Navigate Tides Of Public Opinion

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In Irene, Politicians Navigate Tides Of Public Opinion

In Irene, Politicians Navigate Tides Of Public Opinion

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Here's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON: President Obama, like every other politician in America, has the lessons of Hurricane Katrina seared into his memory. He made sure that his emergency team was prepared and competent. And yesterday, he gave an update from the Rose Garden.

BARACK OBAMA: The effects are still being felt across much of the country, including in New England and states like Vermont where there's been an enormous amount of flooding. So our response continues, but I'm going to make sure that FEMA and other agencies are doing everything in their power to help people on the ground.

LIASSON: Andy Kohut is the president of the Pew Research Center.

ANDY KOHUT: We saw President Bush's fairly bad approval ratings become awful approval ratings in response to the management of Katrina. And there was some risk here for President Obama. But there's not much of an upside in terms of public attitudes for doing one's job well, when it comes to something like a hurricane or other basic functions of government.

LIASSON: Even before Irene was a swirl on the weather map, President Obama had the beginnings of his argument in place. On his bus trip thru the Midwest, he urged voters not to confuse government with politics.

OBAMA: People are tired of politics, but they're not tired of government. They may not realize it, but government are our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Government are our teachers in the classroom. Government are the FEMA folks who help people when there's a flood or a tornado or a natural disaster.

LIASSON: At least one Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, thinks FEMA should be dismantled. on Fox News this Sunday, Paul described FEMA as example of a bloated federal government.

RON PAUL: We've been conditioning our people that FEMA will take care of us and everything will be OK. But you don't - you try to make these programs work the best you can, but you can't just keeping saying, oh, they need money. Well, we're out of money. This country is bankrupt.

LIASSON: Still, former Clinton advisor Chris Lehane thinks Irene highlights a fundamental debate.

CHRIS LEHANE: I mean do we want roads? Do we want fire and police protection? Do we want a fully trained military? Do we want a government that's engaged in creating jobs? I do think there's a potential opening there, coming out of the debt ceiling debate, where, you know, polls made pretty clear that the public was not thrilled at how the Republicans handled the situation - particularly their willingness to shut down the government and potentially put the U.S. economy in a very perilous position.

LIASSON: Andy Kohut.

KOHUT: We have, right now, one of the lowest percentages of people saying they can trust government in polls taken since 1958. And the principle driver of opinions about government have to do with satisfaction with national conditions.

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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