By Bob Cesca: Earlier this month, I wrote about the Cuban Missile Crisis as a critical leadership test for our presidential candidates. How would each candidate, Mitt Romney and President Obama, have reacted in the event of a confrontation in which the slightest error or kneejerk response would have precipitated a chain reaction leading to nuclear war? It comes as no surprise that I believe President Obama would be more likely to pass this test because he's displayed an acumen for being thoughtful, prudent, steely-eyed and centered in a crisis.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has twice failed that test.
First, in his bungled too-soon reaction to the Benghazi attack when he issued a press release slamming the president before the end of the 9/11 commemorative political moratorium and before the fires had stopped burning at the consulate. It was an embarrassing display of awkwardness and amateurish opportunism. (Incidentally, if perchance Romney wins, I'll need to make a hotkey for the word "awkward.") Romney followed it up by further embarrassing himself on the subject during the second presidential debate.
Second, of course, was his transparently self-aggrandizing and equally as bizarre reaction to Hurricane Sandy.
Now, I don't expect that Romney would somehow gain control over federal resources and begin to deploy relief assets to various storm-stricken regions. But at a very basic level, a candidate's reaction to a crisis can speak volumes about how the would-be leader would react.
So far, what have we observed about Romney on the campaign trail that would convince us he'd be solid and in control during a rapidly-developing conflict or disaster? Other than a decently performed, though entirely misleading and shape-shifting debate performance for all of 90 short minutes, the rest of Romney's campaign has been a clusterfuck, as evidenced by his disastrous overseas tour during the Olympics, his spur-of-the-moment insertion of performance artist Clint Eastwood into the convention, his deplorable 47 Percent remarks, his pathological lying in spite of universal debunkings, and his daily shape-shifting from "Severely Conservative Mitt" to "Moderate Peacenik Mitt" and back again.
And then, yesterday, Romney decided the best way to confront the hurricane situation was to set aside politics and help with relief efforts. That's what he claimed he was doing, but it turned out to be another weird display of Romney doing and saying bizarre things. Even though he purportedly canceled his official campaign events, he set up shop in, yes, Ohio, and held a drive to collect canned food (which the Red Cross later said it didn't really need). And because he really couldn't get away with performing his stump speech, staffers displayed Romney's Republican convention video on a movie screen above the food drive table. You know, because it wasn't a political rally.
And in the middle of what should've been a non-political address about the hurricane, Romney said:
“We’re counting on Ohio,” Romney continued. “I know the people of the Atlantic Coast are counting on Ohio and the rest of our states, but I also think the people of the entire nation are counting on Ohio because my guess is, my guess is if Ohio votes me in as President, I’ll be the next president of the United States.”
About as subtle as a karate chop to the throat, eh?
Not only that, but what kind of jumbled mishmosh of a word salad sentence was that? The only thing that could've made it worse was for him would've been to note how Ohio is Manhattan's "route to the sea." Right in the middle of a speech in which he's supposed to project a sense of leadership and compassion he accidentally stumbled into the actual reason why he's organizing his disaster relief not-a-victory-rally victory rally in Ohio: because there are 18 electoral votes at stake. By the way, how much does Romney care about the people of Ohio? So much that he's been brazenly lying to them by saying Jeep was going to send its Ohio factory, and all of the accompanying Ohio jobs, to China. It's not. In spite of public rebukes from fact-checkers, journalists and executives from both GM and Chrysler, Romney continues to repeat the lie.
Worse, a clip from one of the primary debates emerged showing Romney making it clear that FEMA is something that ought to be left to the private sector -- that's it's immoral not to.
"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?"
"Including disaster relief, though?" debate moderator John King asked Romney.
"We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids," Romney replied. "It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."
Of course he prefers the privatization route because his corporate CEO friends would personally stand to profit from such an eventuality, plus, if a disaster were to hit one of his many homes, he could afford to pay for the inevitable fee-for-service disaster relief aid.
And if he can't outright privatize FEMA, his budget plan cuts FEMA by around 40 percent.
This is the presidential candidate who's this close to winning next week. Hell, he can't even get through a statement about a crisis without screwing it up. Imagine what he'd be like in the Situation Room with real lives on the line.