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November 4, 2012

Barack, Mitt and Sandy: Final Exam (or: Why My Friend Saw Obama in this Photo with the Joint Chiefs)

The other day, I was talking to a photographer friend about what else? campaign optics, and about Obama’s handling of the hurricane. The fact he lauded the Administration for its perfect pitch didn’t surprise me, but one line he mentioned did. Besides the FEMA imagery and the President’s visit to New Jersey, he emphasized how thoroughly Obama attacked the crisis (visually and tactically) from the first moment “as if calling out the Joint Chiefs.”

If we’re talking “first moments” I’m pretty sure this wire photo or a else variant was in the mix. We see Obama on October 29th, having just cancelled a rally in Orlando to return to the White House, disembarking Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in the pelting rain. Now my question is, how do you get from a typical three officer tarmac greeting at a military airfield which we’ve seen a thousand times to the Joint Chiefs — since Obama didn’t otherwise engage the military branch? I’m sure people would say the crisis simply gave Obama the opportunity to look more presidential. When you think about the photo, however, it might actually be the other way around.

There is a lot of chatter today from Romney advocates that the storm undermined Mitt’s “momentum.” Given his anti-government and anti-FEMA ideology, along with his cynical hurricane relief theatrics, however, I’d say Sandy didn’t undermine Mitt as much as Mitt did. On the other hand, if my friend conflated this scene in his mind to reflect Obama with the top brass or Obama somehow calling up the military, it’s because what he added to his memory of this scene was the gravitas Obama demonstrated over the past week in the way of surefooted management and authority.

(photo: Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images via TIME Pictures of the Weekcaption: Oct. 29, 2012. U.S. President Barack Obama steps off Air Force One upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Obama cancelled his appearance at a campaign rally in Orlando, Fla. and returned early to Washington, D.C. to monitor response to Hurricane Sandy.)

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