Hurricane Relief Politics

The Obama Administration clearly made an all out push in recent days on Hurricane Irene to try to make sure that disaster efforts weren't bungled in a way that might draw paralells to past disaster relief troubles like work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

After cutting his vacation short by a day on Martha's Vineyard because of the approaching storm, President Obama visited FEMA headquarters on Saturday as his administration bombarded reporters with emails all weekend about U.S. Government disaster efforts.

"FEMA urges East Coast residents to focus on immediate safety," said one of over three dozen press releases churned out in recent days by the Obama Administration, as officials tried to clearly send the message that they weren't just sitting back and waiting to see what happened.

But there was one moment that made me stop dead in my tracks, a quote that came during a visit to FEMA Headquarters on Saturday morning by President Obama.

"You guys are doing a great job," Mr. Obama said, a remark that made me immediately think of President George W. Bush's infamous line when he checked on Katrina relief efforts.

"Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job," Mr. Bush said to FEMA Chief Michael Brown, who resigned ten days later when things didn't look so positive.

"I want people to understand that this is not over," President Obama said on Sunday evening from the White House, as he rattled off for reporters a host of moves made by administration officials on Irene.

"I do want to underscore that the impacts of this storm will be felt for some time, and the recovery effort will last for weeks or longer," Mr. Obama added.

And often, that long term recovery work can result in frayed nerves for those who lost their homes and businesses, administrative bungling by the feds, red tape and frustration - which often boils over into complaints that often turn into political arguments.

The first time I covered a hurricane, I saw that up close - after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, when Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings repeatedly slammed "that FEMA crowd" for what he felt was their lackluster response.

Just a few years ago, FEMA was on the short end of the political stick over Katrina, and a year before that over recovery efforts for a series of storms that hit Florida.

Frankly, FEMA is an easy punching bag, an agency that is often characterized by critics as a dumping ground for political appointees who aren't prepared to deal with emergency response needs.

While Irene didn't live up to the hype when it came to actual destruction, there was still a good amount of damage from the Carolinas to New England - and as you listen to the news in coming days, watch to see what happens with the FEMA recovery angle on Irene.

There are a lot of people in a lot of different states who have been hit by this storm - it makes for a lot of variables which might produce less than optimum results.

And when that happens, the Politics of Hurricanes can return with a vengeance.

George W. Bush felt it over Katrina.

Bill Clinton was rapped over the response to Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

George H.W. Bush heard it over Andrew and Hugo.

Usually, there is a pretty good honeymoon for federal disaster aid work and FEMA - up to a point - and then it evaporates quickly.

But the development of social media and the internet - with a dose of politics - might speed up that process a bit.

Hurricane politics are an interesting mix, because if you do too much, you look like you're hyping a storm and acting like you were totally in charge.

And if you don't do enough to get ready or to help those who were hit hard by the storm, then you look like a fool.

There isn't much room in between.