Obama’s Windfall


Both politics and the media follow a cute routine when a natural calamity strikes during a major U.S. election campaign. On the campaign trail, the first step is to express solidarity and anguish. The second is to make swift symbolic gestures (e.g. Romney collecting food bags for Hurricane Sandy’s victims at what were scheduled as political rallies). The third is to “call off” major campaign events (or paint them differently) as a sign of sensitivity. The fourth is to express horror at the very thought of politicising natural disaster and human misery. (Subtext: that’s what the other guy does. Not me.) The fifth is to go berserk politicising it and grabbing all the photo-ops it offers. Candidates must “look presidential” while soothing Sandy’s victims.

Reporting better

The media did a lot better this time than they did with Hurricane Gustav during the 2008 campaign. Gustav crippled the Republican Convention at St. Paul, Minnesota. The party’s leaders tied themselves in knots, speaking of making the event “low-key.” And of “taking the politics out” of many sessions. Worse, the ghosts of Hurricane Katrina floated on Gustav’s wings. Which Republican wanted to recall that 2005 disaster? President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney remained on vacation for some days after the disaster (Katrina) struck. And Bush went back to DC before visiting the hurricane-hit region in September. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went shopping.

As Gustav approached in 2008, one television anchor declared: “This is a good time for a timeout on politics.” Then proceeded to the political fallout without batting an eyelid. (While adding the line: “We’ve got a lot of reporters watching that hurricane.”) The dilemma? Openly discussing the politics of the disaster, more so in campaign terms, could seem pretty ghoulish. With Hurricane Sandy, there’s been a greater effort to report better. That too by the media within the zone of disaster and also affected by it. Talking heads on television are another story, of course.

The truth is there is no escaping the politics of the disaster. And that politics goes way beyond the campaigns — though surely impacting on them. It goes to big differences on the role of government. (Romney wanted, not so long ago, to privatise disaster response.) It goes to models of industry and employment that work with far fewer skilled personnel than are needed. Models that have gutted skilled gene pools with profit-driven cost-cutting. It brings Climate back into some kind of focus — and the Visible Hand of human agency in that sphere. (Former Vice-President Al Gore is already speaking of Dirty Energy leading to Dirty Weather, etc.)

Talking about the climate

Climate Change was almost entirely absent in the presidential “debates.” But it’s back in the last lap of the campaign with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsing Obama. The billionaire political independent presides over a city that has lost at least 40 lives in the storm. Bloomberg believes global climate change has to be taken more seriously now. Even if Sandy “may or may not be the result” of it. Based on how Obama responded to the storm, the Mayor believes him to be the best candidate to take on global climate change. Obama never once tackled it during the debates. But Bloomberg’s “aye” has him excited. The President now finds climate change is “a threat to our children’s future, and we owe it to them to do something about it.” There are those other issues that the calamity has thrown up. Some of which are a threat to American children in the present. But with the death toll closing in on 100 and millions of people battered by Sandy, it will be a while before those issues figure.

The death toll will go up when the flooded areas are cleared. In New Jersey, close to two million households are without power (Including this reporter’s). Across the coast, close to six million homes and businesses are without power. And it is not clear when that will be restored. Phone networks and services have collapsed across all these regions. In its 108-year history, the New York subway has not seen anything like the level of flooding and damage Sandy has wrought. Over 18,000 flights have been cancelled and more might go that way.

Praising Obama

Which way will Sandy impact the race? Obama was in New Jersey on Wednesday, looking presidential and decisive. That’s very important for television. “Obama tells New Jersey: We are here for you,” run the headlines. It also goes in favour of the President that the state’s Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, is singing his praises. “I cannot thank the President enough for his passion and concern. I was able to witness it today personally.” A staunch Romney supporter, Christie had been trashing Obama not long ago. Simply: in such a crisis, the incumbent does get to look “more presidential” for TV than the challenger. After all, he is already President and wields that power. Christie does need the funds that Obama is pushing New Jersey’s way. And sharing photo-ops with the President in the crisis zone does the Governor no harm either. Christie’s ambitions run to a second term in his post — and beyond. His public praise for Obama has rattled the Romney camp.

Sandy can, however, have other effects. It could affect voting on November 6 as much of the hurricane-hit region may not have limped back to normalcy by then. Quite a few people may be unable to vote on that day. There is already discussion on whether a voting date can be postponed for specific states. And if that could be done legally. There is also the fact that people battered by a major calamity and plunged into darkness and hardship for days can vote in anger against a government or leader. Al Gore’s campaign against George Bush in 2000 dimmed with the drought of that time. And it does seem that even if the post-storm response favours Obama in the hurricane-hit states, most of these favoured him anyway.

Yet, into the fifth day of Sandy’s impact, it does seem the Force is with Obama. Hurricanes are strange political players.

November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”