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Obama manages hurricane response — and expectations

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President Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's command center on Saturday as Hurricane Irene began making its way up the East Coast. (AP) Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene has come and gone, and thanks to some deft expectation-setting and good public relations, President Obama looks like he may come out of it without a black mark on his political record.

And that, in and of itself, is a pretty rare victory.

Natural disasters are often political disasters when it comes to presidents — and we’re not just talking about Hurricane Katrina.

Presidents going back to Richard Nixon have gotten rough reviews for their handling of natural and man-made disasters.

For Nixon, it was Hurricane Agnes, which played a big role in the eventual creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The response was so slow that local and state elected officials sought to apply pressure on the federal government to step up.

When Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, FEMA was in place, but it and President George H.W. Bush still had a rough time. Bush, in particular, earned criticism for delaying his visit to the area until more than a week after the hurricane hit. Even after efforts were redoubled, Bush against struggled to lead the response to Hurricane Andrew three years later.

More recently, think about the hits the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) took in the aftermath of the blizzard that brought the northeast to its knees last year.

With the still-fresh memory of Hurricane Katrina lingering over it all, Obama joined with two other men in Bloomberg and Christie who knew what was at stake when it became clear that Irene was going to work its way up the East Coast.

Dealing with disasters from a political perspective is never easy, because there will always be problems and no response is going to make everyone happy. But there are some things that can be done.

For Obama, the name of the game was avoiding surprises and making sure everyone knew just how serious he was taking things.

To that end, Obama allowed cameras into his meeting with FEMA director Craig Fugate and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano before the storm hit and cut his vacation a day short to get back to Washington, D.C. Making sure people know that you’re working is part of the battle, and the White House made sure people saw Obama with his sleeves rolled up even before things got rough.

Yes, the president benefitted from the fact that the storm weakened as it worked its way up the coast, eventually becoming a tropical storm rather than a hurricane, but preparing for the worst will often soften the blow like that.

In fact, the president felt good enough Sunday night to congratulate officials in government all over the East Coast, saying it was “an exemplary effort of how good government at every level should be responsive to peoples’ needs.”

Having seen what “heckuva job Brownie” did to George W. Bush, words like these would not be added to Obama’s remarks if the White House wasn't confident in the work it had done.

Hurricanes, of course, often involve weeks or even months of recover, and Obama will be judged in many ways for what he does from here on-out.

As of now, though, he has avoided the pitfalls of his predecessors when it comes to these kinds of disasters.

Perry calls Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme’: Despite indications that Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was backing off his previous criticisms of the Social Security program, he made clear this weekend that he’s doing no such thing.

The Houston Chronicle reports Perry on Saturday called the entitlement program a “monstrous lie” and a “Ponzi scheme.”

“It is a Ponzi scheme for these young people,” he said during a townhall in Iowa. “The idea that they’re working and paying into Social Security today, that the current program is going to be there for them, is a lie. It is a monstrous lie on this generation, and we can’t do that to them.”

Perry wrote in his 2010 book that Social Security amounted to a Ponzi scheme and was unconstitutional, but he appeared to be backing away from that stance recently.

Asked Saturday whether he was softening his positions, Perry made sure to leave little doubt.

“I haven’t backed off anything in my book,” he said. “So read the book again, and get it right.”

Fixbits:

The self-funder challenging Rep. Jeff Flake in the Arizona GOP Senate primary may be getting cold feet about plugging his own money into the race.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) still isn’t ruling out a run for Senate, despite the recent entry of Elizabeth Warren into the Democratic primary, and his decision should come soon.

The Tea Party Express begins a nationwide bus tour.

In his new book, Dick Cheney says President Bush authorized a leak of information about the strategy in Iraq to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.

Colin Powell says Cheney’s book contains “cheap shots.” He also won’t guarantee that he’ll back Obama in 2012.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas): Not a FEMA fan.

Embattled Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) has raised very little money in August. His explanation? He’s giving donors a summer break.

Must-reads:

Mitt Romney vs. Rick Perry 2012: It’s personal” — Maggie Haberman, Politico

Romney’s ‘corporations are people’ remark is latest inconvenient truth in a presidential race” — AP

Texas incentive funds touted by Perry draw praise, criticism”-- Jim Fuquay, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

A two-man GOP presidential race?” — Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

American town halls more contentious than ever, in part by design” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

In a conservative field, Jon Huntsman struggles for footing” — Michael Leahy, Washington Post

Perry’s travel, security costs will stay secret until after 2012” — Sari Horwitz, Washington Post

Pro athletes, NFL execs donate to President Obama, Republican rivals” — Bob Cusack, The Hill

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