Political thoughts on Sandy

When we have a disaster, we are supposed to pull together. Of course, if the disaster is bungled, the people in power say Now is not the time to play politics and if it isn’t bungled, the people out of power say Now is not the time to play politics. The reality is that everybody wants to play politics when it serves them and doesn’t want to when it doesn’t. I am starting to think that – either way – a disaster, a national disaster, is the best time to talk politics. It is the best time to examine what the government did, what it should have done, and what the other guy would have done.

I have alot of problems with the Federal Government sticking its nose into local issues – like highway landscaping – and think that a Romney Administration would be closer to my position on that. But there are too many tradeoffs to for me to seriously consider Romney (starting with the Supreme Court). Another problem is that Romney says he would localize or, even, privatize Agencies like FEMA. FEMA is exactly the kind of agency the Federal Government should be running. A huge, national, disaster like Sandy requires Federal involvement. Not only involvement, but the Feds should be the lead agency.

A couple of days ago, I heard Governor Cuomo give a very smart mini-lecture on handling a disaster. He broke it down into several phases: the actual disaster, the immediate aftermath, the digging out aftermath – I don’t remember his, much better, description – and prevention of future, similar, disasters.

Obama and the Obama Administration has done a superb job of dealing with the actual disaster of Sandy, better than Bush, et al. Of course, Obama got off to a good start because he appointed a professional rather than some political hack. The guy he appointed, William Fugate, had been the head of Jeb Bush’s Florida Division of Emergency Management, to head FEMA ( in one of many unacknowledged bipartisan acts, by the way). This is a guy who believes in actual Emergency Management so the chances of him doing a good job are already pretty good. But the actual disaster is not – usually – the biggest problem.

Like Romney, Bush the Younger didn’t believe that FEMA had a real purpose – or, at least  a purpose he believed in – so he appointed Michael Brown ” Heck of a Job, Brownie”  to head the Agency. Of course FEMA  didn’t perform in Katrina, it was set up not to perform. (In an ironic twist, Brownie has been critical of Obama, saying that he reacted too quickly.) I see it as a very legitimate question to ask How would a Romney Administration react to a disaster like Sandy?  There is no reason that he would react as well as an Obama Administration.

Where the Bush Administration failed abysmally  is in the second stage of Katrina. And from everything Romney has said – up until, maybe two days ago – he would be even worse. He seems to think that it is morally wrong to borrow money to dig out of a disaster (and that is the only place the money is going to come from).   The second stage is just starting now and it will be interesting to see how Obama reacts but, so far, his reaction seems to be spot on. Cut the bureaucracy and get what people out to them. This is really the kind of leadership that Obama trained for as a community organizer and – watching him – he seems to be actually having fun. I expect he will excel.

Once the power is turned back on, the subways are pumped out, people have running water again, the hard part will start. The rebuilding. Paul Ryan has already said that we shouldn’t rebuild in the danger zones and I think – in some areas – he has a good point. That has been the collective attitude in a couple of towns that were ruined by floods in the mid-west. However, it is going to be very hard to walk away from New York, New York. This is an area where I trust Romney the least: it is going to be very expensive – requiring massive loans for infrastructure – and these are not his people (and while Romney has shown that he can be very generous when his people are involved, empathy for others does not seem to be a Romney characteristic). Because of Obama – and because New York is the center of the media world – I expect that rebuilding after Sandy will be quantitatively better than New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina but I would be surprised if we see New Jersey completely restored (and, maybe, we shouldn’t).

And, then, where do we go from here (there?). For me, that is the biggest worry. Our world climate is changing and nobody seems to really be willing to address it in a serious and meaningful way. I don’t mean just Obama or Romney, I mean all of us. That just seems so scary and so  human.




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