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Although Barack Obama won, the bitter campaign divided the US. The president emerges with a tenuous mandate and an urgent domestic to-do list. Abroad, a new world order is rising from the euro crisis, the Arab Spring and emerging Asia, and US leadership will be key. In this series, GlobalPost's far-flung correspondents bring you insights into how President Obama's re-election will impact their regions.

GlobalPost Commentary

Romney shows how NOT to help during a disaster

Commentary: As the East Coast struggles with floods, fires and blackouts, does it really need Campbell's soup?
Mitt romney sandy relief 2012 10 30
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney helps collect and pack donated goods at a storm relief event to help people who suffered from superstorm Sandy, in Kettering, Ohio, on Oct. 30, 2012. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Winning the presidency is primarily a matter of optics.

And at the climax of the 2012 presidential campaign, Superstorm Sandy poses real image challenges for Mitt Romney, as the president grabs the spotlight in the relief efforts.

The Romney campaign has responded by seeking to show their candidate doing his part to aid victims. His first post-Sandy photo: collecting canned goods for evacuees. Sleeves rolled up, Romney glad-hands a volunteer in front of a folding table piled two rows high with Campbell's soup.

The image may convince some voters, even as news leaks that the donations were staged via a Wal-Mart run by campaign staff.

To others, it’s evidence of a candidate out of touch with the depths of the crisis. Queens had burned, nuke plants were on alert, and water had poured into the Battery tunnel. Now here’s Mitt Romney, ready to deliver the cream of chicken.

As any seasoned emergency relief professional will tell you, the last thing needed at a disaster site is thousands of boxes from small donors. Charities won’t tell you this. They’re in the business of letting people express their compassion, and they don’t want to alienate donors. But care packages and can drives are a terminal headache for their foot soldiers.

Consider this: The donations collected at the Romney event included diapers, toothbrushes, mini-deodorants, cereal, toilet paper and fleece blankets, according to the Washington Post. These will be shipped in, somewhere, on damaged infrastructure. (In Ohio, Romney didn’t know for sure where the items would go: “We’re going to box these things up in just a minute and put them on some trucks, and then we’re going to send them into, I think it’s New Jersey,” he said.)

And they will be accompanied by countless other boxes — of clothing, tampons, pharmaceuticals (expired drugs and half-used prescriptions are always popular), and the like.

Such items barrel in like flotsam after pretty much any disaster, domestic or foreign.

They merely add to the debris.

Storing, sorting and moving them to actual recipients is logistical hell, and a serious burden for already-overstretched relief workers.

Local food banks and soup kitchens might be setup to handle small donations. Disaster areas are not.

Often, such donations merely go to waste.

In one extreme example, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, pharmaceuticals sent from around the world clogged the airport. So they were shipped by the truckload to a warehouse, where they eventually rotted in their boxes, seeping into the groundwater and creating a biological hazard that loomed for years after the disaster.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t support private organizations. You should — the good ones play a critical role globally, alongside government relief agencies.

But send money, not stuff.

Donate to a reputable relief organization. And politically, don’t be fooled by the idea that citizen goodwill can replace the work of real professionals.

The damage from Hurricane Sandy is estimated at more than $20 billion. As GlobalPost's Jean MacKenzie points out, that's a lot of canned goods and toilet paper.

An event like Sandy is an opportunity for presidential candidates to demonstrate leadership and good judgment.

Romney fell short on that.

By highlighting private charity in his Ohio event, Romney underscored the post-Reagan Republican fantasy that churches and civic groups can easily replace "useless government bureaucrats." And he appears to be making good on his 2011 comments, in which he argued that the federal government had no business supporting emergency relief — in fact, it could no longer afford to do so.

Shutting down FEMA won’t happen, because it would amount to political suicide the next time disaster strikes. But if elected, don't be surprised if Mitt follows President George W. Bush’s lead and recruits a FEMA chief from the International Arabian Horse Association.

Follow journalist David Case on Twitter:

SarahJDavitt More than 1 year ago
Politics aside--- thank you for saying what needed to be said... Disaster aid work needs professionals, and not your warm fuzzy flotsam. Also, if Mitt Romney approaches the presidency like he approached this emergency, his PR may make great strides to do something actually dangerous. The world is not as easily duped.
Marxist Socialist Liberal More than 1 year ago
Just another born on third rich guy out of touch with the rest of us.
bill o'rights More than 1 year ago
Your name says it all. I appreciate your honesty, but are you the 'rest of us'?
Rick Spung More than 1 year ago
that's funny, i on't recall seeing michelle obama doing anything at all for the victims of sandy. and anyone who has read anything about the victims knows they need exactly what romney is providing- food, drinking water, medicine, blankets and clothing. this is a ridiculous article by someone who is blinded by political hatred.
Bruce Bersch More than 1 year ago
This rag is just a POS liberal biased scam site designed to make the dems feel good.
Mike Waldsmith More than 1 year ago
Selene More than 1 year ago
That's true. Reagan was the one who started the phone program, and what a waste.
Bonnie Hestand More than 1 year ago
Reagan started the phone program.
Ettore Greco More than 1 year ago
The Neocons will have Mitt Romney elected to first use him and then let him fall easy prey. All blames and responsibilities will fall on the new Mormon president for the events already planned. The new World War of Religion is already a done deal behind the backs of all people to bring chaos and poverty and to favor in the end one New World Order. Soon you will see revolutions everywhere. Entire populations will be first reduced to poverty and then pitted one against the other until exhausted they will accept to live submitting to new rules in a World dressed in chains. The lack of effective governments will set the stage for one World Tyranny It will be just from chaos that one voice will rise with the promise to fix all and everyone. That will be the forked tongue of the New World Order One Solution once it happens.
Kathie Wilson More than 1 year ago
Bonnie Hestand More than 1 year ago
sounds paranoid to me. prayer changes things.
JonettaBarnett1 More than 1 year ago
It would not have mattered what Romney did regarding the disaster, it would not have been the right thing to David Case and all of Obama's supporters. I assume you sent a lot of money to one of the organizations you mentioned. Obama went to be seen and he gave the taxpayers money, remember he hasn't given as much of his wealth to the poor as Romney has. Mr. and Mrs. Obama are busy spending the taxpayers money, jetting around the world, he is the one not in touch with the people and yes things are better for HIM, he doesn't have to spend any of his money. I am applauded he had the Air Force One painted for his campaign, sure he understands the little people. Bull! But with this said I will prayer for the president and all those that hold our country in their hands, praying that the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob saves his sole.
Dumhi Countal More than 1 year ago
LOL, I like how you say "Donate to a reputable organization", then link to a bunch of Red Cross centers. Your money is as likely to make it to victims by flushing it down the toilet as it is by donating to that contemptibly corrupt organization.
Marybeth Sullivan More than 1 year ago
Just another reason to contribute to Red Cross or Salvation Army Sandy Relief Funds if you haven't had a chance to do so yet!
Chidambaram Murugan More than 1 year ago
IN Air Force,when a aircraft crashesa other pilots take of to kep the morale high. So When the Hurricane had made devasting damages we should keep our moral high by Running a Marathon.