It’s not mentioned much now, but in the late summer of 2008, a major hurricane, Gustav, was in the Gulf of Mexico and headed toward New Orleans, threatening a replay of the disastrous Katrina experience. On September 1, 2008, Barack Obama, fresh from his Roman-colonnade speech on the final night of the Democratic convention in Denver, talked to CNN’s Anderson Cooper about Gustav and the Gulf. The question: As president, could he handle an emergency like that? Obama pointed to the size of his campaign and its multi-million dollar budget as evidence of his executive abilities. “Our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years,” Obama said. That executive ability, he added, “indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.”
Cooper asked the question in terms of Sarah Palin, who had just been selected for the Republican presidential ticket:
COOPER: And, Senator Obama, my final question — some of your Republican critics have said you don’t have the experience to handle a situation like this. They in fact have said that Governor Palin has more executive experience, as mayor of a small town and as governor of a big state of Alaska. What’s your response?
OBAMA: Well, you know, my understanding is, is that Governor Palin’s town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We have got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. So, I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years. And, certainly, in terms of the legislation that I passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina of how we handle emergency management, the fact that many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place as we speak, I think, indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.
Just for accuracy’s sake: Alaska’s budget in 2008 was $11.2 billion, and the state employed about 15,000 people, so while it was nowhere near the size of the federal government — no state is — it was considerably larger than the Obama campaign. But the bigger point of the interview was Obama’s argument that his ability to run a good campaign proved he had executive ability, even though he had no executive experience. Now we are in a situation that cries out for executive experience and leadership — ironically enough, in the Gulf again — and some who accepted Obama’s argument back in 2008 are rethinking things this time around.