The Jersey Shore that President Barack Obama is visiting today appears in remarkably better shape than residents thought possible just 30 weeks ago.
The recovery has so exceeded expectations that a widespread sense of appreciation for the government’s power permeates the beach towns hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy — even though all of them are as reliably Republican as any communities in the region.
There’s still plenty of complaining, but very little has to do with the bureaucrats forcing their will on the locals — somewhat surprising, given that the flavor of conservatism along the shore is all about small government and low taxes, not the lingering fights in the culture wars.
Instead, from Seaside Park north to the Shrewsbury River, the street-corner view over Memorial Day weekend was that the federal and state performance has been impressive and efficient since the storm — yet was still way insufficient to the task at hand. They want Washington and Trenton to assert even more control over their lives and their livelihoods, but only until a lasting sense of normalcy has returned. Then, they will be quite happy to wave goodbye to the appraisers, adjusters, engineers, heavy equipment operators and loan officers who have personified government service for the past seven months.
It’s this classic split in the mind of so many Americans — they want their government to rescue them from trouble but leave them alone the rest of the time — that Obama will be seeking to navigate along with his odd-couple partner for the day, Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
In his speech at 1:30 at the convention hall in Asbury Park, the president will tout the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as evidence the government he presides over is plenty competent and responsive. It’s a welcome moment for him to try and divert attention from the other agencies that have come under fire for opposite reasons in recent weeks, most prominently the IRS and its targeting of conservative groups.
And Obama will get another powerful boost from Christie, who is a solid favorite for re-election this fall thanks to his storm stewardship. He also looks ready to run for president in 2016 as the Republican least interested in dramatically shrinking the federal government, but most committed to harnessing government in the service of economic growth.
Tourism down at the shore is a $40 billion business most summers, and Christie is hoping 2013 comes reasonably close. The holiday weekend began with rain and ended with sun, but a too-cool-for sunbathing wind kept the crowds markedly down despite elaborate marketing campaigns.
With this vacation season on the minds of recovery leaders since the start, the priorities have been getting the businesses near the boardwalks reopened and the beaches reconfigured and cleaned. This came to the annoyance of some residents, especially inland, who think too little attention has been paid to their reconstruction travails.