The politics of an earthquake

By the close of business yesterday, several conservative voices were pretty worked up about President Obama’s response to the mid-Atlantic earthquake yesterday. In fact, much of the right at least pretended to be outraged.

For the record, the president was briefed on the developments during his vacation, and was available to act if needed.

President Barack Obama was just starting a round of golf when the East Coast earthquake rattled the ground around him.

He put the foursome on hold and, within the hour, was on the telephone and getting updates on the temblor’s aftermath from top aides, the White House said. Told there had been no major damage reported, Obama resumed one of his favorite pastimes and stayed at the public Farm Neck Golf Club for several more hours. […]

The White House said he asked for regular earthquake reports. He also was updated on Hurricane Irene.

So, there was an earthquake. The president was made aware of it. There was no serious damage, no casualties, nothing for emergency response teams to do, and nothing for Obama to do. He was kept apprised and went about his afternoon. I don’t know why this is supposed to be interesting.

I realize conservatives are a creative bunch, and can manufacture outrage out of whole cloth, but even for the right, making a fuss about this is just childish. Indeed, at a certain level, it’s counter-productive — shouldn’t the right be more selective, going on the attack when Obama actually messes up, so it would have a greater impact?

In the case of the earthquake, if there’d been an actual disaster, and Obama sat around reading a children’s book while Americans were dying, I could see conservatives getting upset. If Obama had been told a month ago that a serious disaster was poised to happen, and he told the geologists, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now” before ignoring the warnings, the right would have plenty of room for criticism.

But this is weak tea. When pundits are reduced to wanting to see the president “pretend to do something,” you know the discourse has badly gone off the rails.

Indeed, if we’re going to have a substantive discussion about politics, policy, and natural disasters, perhaps the better place to start would be with Republican efforts to cut funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes, and mocking investments in studying seismic activities.

Given the circumstances, this seems far more interesting.