February 29, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Leadership is part of the job

Hurricane Irma and tropical storm at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Good governance is the expectation


There are two important lessons we can learn from Hurricane Irma: One, that we as a community possess remarkable resolve when faced with adversity; and two, that we offer too much praise to government leaders who are simply doing their job.

We have the misguided tendency to use hurricanes and other natural disasters as a sort of litmus test for government leadership, either producing a “pass” or “fail” result. While this is understandable in times of crisis given that governors are the faces we associate with state leadership, it misconstrues the nature of their position.

Governors are public servants first and foremost. They have a job description and set of expectations they must meet and strong leadership is one of those expectations. When governors take to the podium to deliver messages of public safety, we should not sing songs of praise any more than we would for the bank teller who properly handles your money every day.

As one GOP consultant put it, “There will be political capital that he gets off of that. … [I]f you perform well, you automatically have a feather in your cap in terms of leadership and executive authority.” A natural disaster should not distinguished for its role in bolstering a leader’s political strength.

What has also revealed itself is the propensity to rank the responses of governors to hurricanes over recent decades against one another.

However, no two natural disasters are the same. The conditions of each storm, such as its severity and path, will vary every time, as should a governor’s response to that storm. Timely and precautionary evacuations are good, but comparing when governor “A” gave the order compared to governor “B” is a fruitless venture and it misses the factors involved.

More importantly, this shifts the conversation in the wrong direction. The real heroes are not the politicians, but the emergency responders and citizens who came together to help each other weather the storm.

Immediately following both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, people emerged from their battered homes and began cleaning up debris, and extending offers to help their neighbors. In the Texas flooding following Hurricane Harvey, citizens used their own boats, alongside government aid workers and law enforcement, and worked together to rescue families from flooded neighborhoods and brought them to safety in nearby shelters. The same sort of community effort has has been seen in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in the aftermath of Irma.

Governor McMaster did what he was supposed to do during Hurricane Irma’s course. He communicated necessary weather updates to the public, and offered support to local leaders most affected by the storm. But you don’t reward politicians for simply doing their job.

There is value in positive reinforcement, but when you place politicians on a pedestal for fulfilling their responsibilities, you lose sight of the idea that good job performance is simply expected.

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The Nerve