Who’s ‘Winning’ the Hurricane?
By Mobutu Sese Seko
We’re all fools if we think that Hurricane Sandy will be the one moment of human struggle to remain unblemished by political opportunism. The peerless horror of September 11 was given all of a few weeks before it became a cudgel with which to beat Democrats as the pussiest bunch of pusses to ever puss under God’s own sun.
Hurricanes are commonplace, as disasters go, which means we feel less shame in exploiting their consequences. Even with the catastrophic ones, Katrina’s precedent gives political cover to anyone’s cynical campaign move. So even as the waters recede, expect the tide of political ordure to rise and try to keep surging until next Tuesday.
The question, then, is: “Who’s gonna win this hurricane?”
The sleeper hit of the storm may be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After stumping for months for Romney, and blasting Barack Obama during his Republican National Convention keynote speech, Christie praised the president’s leadership in responding to Sandy. When aggrieved Fox News commentators tried to help him walk back his praise, he shut them down by saying that he didn’t give a damn about presidential politics right now.
In the short term, such an attitude makes Christie look like an attractive bipartisan “big picture” leader, which will only help in his upcoming gubernatorial reelection campaign. But, should Romney lose on November 6, it also leaves him open to a 2016 presidential bid. Christie’s tough talk has been attenuated by genuine concern for citizens, and he looks like the sort of guy unafraid to stand above the political fray to get the right things done.
On the other hand, Democrats can well remember the week following September 11, when New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani seemed vaguely Churchillian in fearlessly tromping around the city, speaking of citizens’ indefatigable spirit and rising above partisan mummery and culture-war crap to get the cleanup done. Combined with his pro-choice bona fides, his tendency to dress in drag and the fact that he seemed like a cosmopolitan jackass rather than a provincial one, Democrats rapturously wished that he were the president, instead of that mushmouthed goober Dubya.
Then, in 2004, Giuliani addressed the Republican National Convention, invoking a “troops stabbed in the back” myth and an image of Democrats as terrorist- and immigrant-aiding fifth-columnists, sapping the vitality of the folk and destroying the nation from within. He did everything short of address the Republican Party from a throne of skulls.
So this Christie thing might not pan out.
Instead, the safe and probable bet is that Obama comes out of Hurricane Sandy looking the best of any national figure, for a few reasons:
1. There’s nothing like a national disaster for people to remember just how much government can be the solution. When the only thing standing between you and going hungry for the night is some FEMA official handing out MREs, suddenly that guy becomes less of a micro-managing pointy-headed technocratic federal fuckup trying to tell you how to live your life from all the way down in WASHINGTON DEE CEE. Put it this way, anybody in a blue Brooks Brothers blazer who wants to walk around Staten Island saying, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help!” in a really sarcastic tone of voice is likely to find himself getting an MTA rail twisted around his neck like an iron ascot.
2. Paul Ryan repeatedly voted to defund FEMA, the same group that’s helping to keep some people safe and warm right now. And of course Mitt Romney spent time during the Republican debates calling for dismantling FEMA:
ROMNEY: Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better…
KING: Including disaster relief, though?
ROMNEY: We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.
Not only is this unsexy rhetoric in the aftermath of a disaster, it’s pretty brutal on its own. Mitt Romney’s eyes are fixed 25 years into the future (where, evidently, he sees no long-term risks from anthropogenic climate change), and today must be sacrificed to preserve that point on the horizon, even if it means that things today could be massively more lethal. Save tomorrow by killing today. Through the lens of natural disaster, if you want Mitt Romney’s picture of our children’s future, picture a man holding a child’s face underwater forever.
3. One man is the president right now, and it’s not Mitt Romney. Unless you massively fuck up a natural disaster—like, view it from a plane way too late, appoint some thoroughbred-inseminator to the head of FEMA and generally do diddly-shit while minorities are overwhelmingly punished for your inattention—people generally will like seeing your efforts to be part of the solution. Obama gets to visit disaster areas and lay out recovery plans. If Romney does that, he only looks shamelessly opportunistic. Look for Mitt Romney to start doing this today.
That said, there are two ways Hurricane Sandy can negatively impact Obama:
1. As suggested above, Mitt Romney just goes balls-to-the-wall with lying about and exploiting everything. His is already the definitive example of a post-truth presidency. How will I balance the budget? By adding over $10 trillion in debt to it. I will protect Roe v. Wade by fighting to end it. From here it’s basically a hop and a skip to OBAMA USED THERMITE CHARGES INSIDE WTC 1 TO DESTROY THE LEVEES AND ATTACK THE SUCCESS OF WALL STREET. You can already hear Harry Shearer having a gran mal seizure trying to figure out which part of that gets debunked and which is true. Mitt Romney has less than six days left to lie his ass off to secure the job that he considers his birthright. If he’s evinced zero shame to this point, this is a pretty stupid time to start.
2. Obama voters stay home. Hurricane Sandy struck a part of the country in which Obama held a likely electoral advantage. The northeast is Democrat-friendly, but supporter fatigue and fallout from his first terrible debate performance has narrowed his lead. It’s possible that prospective Obama voters will think, “Eh, I don’t live in a swing state, so I can stay home,” and do just that. Also complicating matters is damage to infrastructure that may make getting to a voting booth a horrible hassle and cause tremendous delays at the precincts. All of which could erase slim Obama leads in states where cleaning up after devastation feels far more immediately important than electing some guy.
Any of these things could come true, at this moment it seems likelier that circumstances will slightly favor Obama. The GOP Prevaricatron 2012 machine is cranking out bullshit talking point after bullshit talking point with a panicked urgency, but it doesn’t seem to be drowning out the clownish noises emitted by their own campaign.
Yesterday, Mitt Romney had “relief event” in Ohio. To bolster the Romney/Ryan talking point that private charity is more effective than government management, they encouraged people to bring relief aid to the Victory Rally. Romney held up boxes of clothes, food and other goods.
The only problem is that the Red Cross doesn’t accept them. Taking food, clothes and goods from Americans in God knows what sanitary conditions requires inspecting, cleansing/sterilizing and repackaging, all of which costs extra money and man-hours. It also results in a hodge-podge of crap that people wanted to get rid of from their closets and cupboards. It’s not tailored to the needs of people in a crisis area, and it doesn’t allow groups like the Red Cross to purchase necessary goods from areas proximal to the disaster and thus support local economies.
What Romney evidently didn’t know, because evidently nobody in charge of this “relief event” did a damn bit of planning, is that the best thing for relief organizations, for directly responding to the needs of victims and refugees, is money.
Instead of reading this Election 2012 Horserace BS, why not pick one and donate some?
Image by Jim Cooke.