The human cost of superstorm Sandy – yes, technically not a hurricane – has yet to be fully realised. Aside from the forecast that the disaster will cost the US more than $50 billion, over 80 people have died in the disaster; a figure that is likely to rise with many others remaining missing. With around 4.5 million people still without power, thousands still trapped by flood-water fears of a impending fuel crisis and the New York subway service still half-closed, the next few days and weeks could be a long hard struggle for those caught up in the crisis.
This is the main story that should be taken out of America’s eastern seaboard;indeed, it is fairly crude and whimsical to speculate on anything else related to the disaster. This is about actual lives, not “petty politics”.
Be that as it may, coming merely a week before the US presidential election, the political impact of the cyclone cannot be ignored.
Obama looked like a commandar-in-chief, leading his country through its trouble and one that cared about his people.
Obama, who went back on the campaign trail yesterday, dealt with the crisis swiftly canceling his campaign plans and taking action straight away; there was no Benghazi hiccup here. The idea that the disaster was good for the POTUS is wrong though; it was in fact, a perilous moment. If he acted badly, it would have been noticeable; acting well less so.
Nonetheless, with all eyes watching him, he took to his duties like a duck to water. He took a grip of the situation, quickly signing declarations of disaster, assessing damage – including an aerial tour over the New Jersey coastline – and meeting local politicians and victims of the disaster. Obama looked like a commandar-in-chief, leading his country through its trouble and one that cared about his people. Most importantly, he didn’t over do it.
Of course, it was somewhat of a poison chalice for Romney; he, after all, also had to stop campaigning, show compassion and, hardest of all, looks presidential albeit without any role. It was difficult to deal with Obama’s incumbency advantage with the best Romney being able to do was to change a rally into a storm relief event.
The lingering ghost of Katrina will clearly come back to haunt the Republicans too; that was a example of mishandling a tragedy with a callous indifference to those suffering, especially in the far-poorer city that is New Orleans. Sandy will have awoken those memories and Romney may struggle to distance himself from Bush’s ghostly presence. That said, Romney’s ill-advised opposition to federal disaster relief – claiming that such matters should be left to the private sector – will also be haunting the GOP candidate. As a fan of a ‘small state’ government, the storm was likely to fly into the face of many of his beliefs.
What could be more key, however, is how other figures have responded to the President’s command of the situation.
The most surprising of these came from New Jersey state governor, Chris Christie – a Republican who many wanted to run for the party’s candidacy. The governor has been a vocal critic of Obama, but referred to his dealing of the crisis – especially in regards to cutting through bureaucracy – as “outstanding”. When a Republican is saying that, you’ve done a good job Mr. President.
Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, has now also publicly endorsed the President. Bloomberg – once a Democrat who won two terms as mayor as a Republican before becoming independent – said that his position was due to Obama’s leadership on climate change.
Indeed, it is this issue that has now become a hot topic of the election. Bloomberg even made note that Romney’s economic policies were to his liking, but the events of Sandy had brought “the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief” – the environment has become the number one issue to many.
He further stated that given the extreme weather conditions being experienced around the world; all world leaders should be taking immediate action. The flaw in all this is that the link between tropical storms and climate change is extremely unclear; indeed, these incidents are purely natural disasters that are part of the earth’s cycle.
Obama won’t care though; and he has, in some ways, taken steps to reduce the US’s carbon footprint – the new fuel-efficiency standards on cars for example. Alternatively, Romney’s green credentials are less than perfect.
So back to the original question; will it win Obama the election?
It’s truly impossible to say. The race remains extremely tight – polls tied at 49% – with the swing states remaining so important as to whom will be sitting in the White House on November 7th. The fact is that most of the states hit by the cyclone were essentially guaranteed to Obama already.
Nonetheless, for undecided and torn voters, the past few days has shown that Obama can do the job – and do the job well. There is no better campaign than that. Indeed, it is difficult to see how it hasn’t worked in the President’s favour; especially as it had taken the spotlight away from Romney’s ever-growing campaign.
Don’t expect headlines of ‘It Was The Storm Wot Won It’; it might, just might, be the difference come election day though.