FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

More articles by:

P Sainath is the founder and editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought.’ You can contact the author here: @PSainath_org

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail