One storm's been, another's coming

Last updated 08:30 07/11/2012

Hey. It's Election Day!

stormMaybe I'm out of line to say this, but I couldn't help but feel that Hurricane Sandy last week was an almost all-too-perfect exclamation point to this aggressive, petulant, overlong, so very nearly over American election campaign.

Before you go straight for my jugular, yes the loss of life was tragic and the damage it brought to both property and economy catastrophic. There's nothing perfect about that.

There was just something so eerily fitting about Hurricane Sandy - having CNN on, mouths agape, scanning between news sites - and how it was such an epic and unavoidable expression of the brute physicality of nature at a point when America is drowning under a roughly $6 billion pile of election cycle bulls**t.

Hurricane Sandy was a cruel punchline that worked on so many levels.

It came at the end of a campaign where climate change hasn't been raised once. Obama has fiddled with the margins of rectifying climate change, changing up vehicle emission standards and altering some green building standards, without achieving a lot else. It isn't even clear if Mitt Romney believes or doesn't believe in climate change, or just believes whatever he needs to in order to try and win the vote of the person he's talking to at any given point.

But here we had a hurricane gaining strength from an unnaturally warm Atlantic Ocean and colliding into a pre-existing cold front to form a freak, destructive super-storm.

A braver man than Obama might have taken to the loudest megaphone he could find to make sure everyone was informed that Mitt Romney wants to disempower the Federal Emergency Management Agency and put disaster management back on the states, which is a move ripped straight from the Bush-era playbook and led to several post-Katrina disgraces.

obamabiden

Except that a deadly, expensive hurricane wreaking havoc on the northeast of America is something that can't apparently be wrung for political gain.

It's a much more serious event than a regular old dead Libyan ambassador, people.

I'm sure that somewhere, some redneck southern pastor will remark that Sandy was more of God's penance for homosexuals and liberalism and liberals in turn will titter that it was some karmic reminder to conservatives that climate change is a thing that can't be ignored (because ignoring climate change worked out pretty badly for that nasty-looking vice-president in the Day After Tomorrow, did it not?).

But what we got instead was Obama and Romney having a staring contest, seeing who could politicise the hurricane the least.

And what was even better about the hurricane, after months of Romney and Obama spinning, tacking and countering in the most endless duel since the climax of the second Mission Impossible movie, was that it cut through all of the ideological flatulence and put this campaign - the only game in town for months here - into (unflattering) perspective. 

Obama exited the campaign trail and went back to work. You could have almost forgotten he had a country to run amid all of this electioneering.

And then with Obama back at his desk the morass of campaign advertising and strategy his media people have spun out in the last year suddenly paled in effectiveness against people being able to observe him simply being president in a time of national crisis.

The hurricane brought in some bipartisanship, which is often referenced but rarely seen in this country. Sandy brought Obama and an ideological rival, New Jersey Governor and Republican Chris Christie, together harmoniously on a national stage. Christie went on talk shows on three straight days and praised how available, productive and effective Obama was in opening up federal assistance to the state of New Jersey. The two then toured the wrecking grounds last week in order to review damages.

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And when Christie was asked on Fox News whether Romney might come to New Jersey to see the damages, maybe have his photo taken, such talk was even coolly dismissed: "I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested. I've got a job to do here in New Jersey that's much bigger than presidential politics and I could care less about any of that stuff." 

Oneupsmanship be damned, the storm was both bigger than politics and at the same time, coming as it did right before the election, completely political.

Politics in this country is like a red wine stain. It gets everywhere.

*****

So anyway, today people will be voting and in 24 hours (fingers crossed!) this election will be over. I'll be glued to vote tallies on both my phone and cable news this evening. I'm also taking a few hours out to be in the audience for the taping of an episode of Conan, which I'm pretty jazzed about.

I think hurricane or not, Obama is heading for narrow re-election. I'm not certain about this. But I feel it is the more likely result.

As some have supposed, nay heckled at points, I support Obama... in a sense.

The big revelation for me about American government in the two years I've been here is that the president has more in common with the Queen than I ever imagined. The President of the United States of America sets a tone in the country (and the world) but there's so much that is out of his hands.

votingAnd on a base level, if I'm going to support a figurehead, I'm going to support the one that likes the Chicago Bulls, watches The Wire, Parks and Recreation and Homeland and invites Chris Paul to the White House for a pickup game of basketball... (and also the one that supports gay marriage and women's rights, at least makes a play to economic fairness, believing in climate change, the importance of healthcare, etc).

Obama's had his misses. He bungled financial reform, he passed a healthcare bill so complicated that its supporters are behind it mostly on the joy that America at least now has a healthcare bill. He's whiffed on any action to face the coming horrors of climate change. Guantanamo Bay is still open. He's veered much further to the right of where the unpopular George W. Bush was on national security issues.

But I like Obama. And he's done more than just some good. He's a deft intellectual, a great diplomat and held the line economically when America was going backwards.

But he's also the guy that taught me once and for all times that it's a fool's errand to have faith in an elected politician.

The idea of "President Romney", conversely, worries me on a few counts. It gives me a cold sweat to think of one or two spots opening up on the Supreme Court (responsible for almost all major developments of law in America) in the next four years and the 5-4 conservative-liberal split on the court calcifying or (gulp) widening to 6-3. I worry that there will be no bulwark in the White House to push back against attacks on women's rights in America. I worry about a widening gulf in income inequality, the sacrificing of insignificantly expensive public programmes to (dishonestly) justify military expansion, increasing amounts of political ignorance toward important matters such as science and an end of at least trying to put a national healthcare plan in place.

But know this: whoever wins, the sun will rise again.

For any New Zealander responsible for one of the many "if Romney is elected America is beyond salvation" Tweets I have spied in the past few days... it's America's election to vote in who they want. It is not your decision and your condescension reflects poorly on you.

For any American reader, who wakes up tomorrow to a president they don't support, eeither Obama nor Romney, nor the Democratic and Republican votes they represent, is as evil as you think. You can play your own part in progress by slowing the rote of division and vilification.

Because: victory for either Obama or Romney will be brief and shallow.

Whether it will be Democrats seeking payback against a Republican administration for four years of legislative sabotage, or ideological civil war among enraged Republicans confused that they couldn't defeat a weak incumbent, neither President nor President-elect will be in a position to really treat what ails America.

Which is I guess the true joke of this election, that it's been one big distraction rather than the needed answer. Come inauguration day 2013, American politics will be just as broken as it always has been.  

Funny, huh?      

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