Sandy shakes things up: There's nothing like a major disaster to encourage bipartisanship
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"Brilliant," my big brother said in one of our long-distance discussions of current events. "Absolutely brilliant."
He was referring to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's belligerent comments on how Hurricane Sandy would affect Tuesday's election. His sole concern, he thundered, was dealing with the storm's destruction. He could not care less about the election in light of the disaster; and anyone who thought differently didn't know him very well.
Next thing we knew, Mr. Christie was delivering a ringing endorsement of how President Barack Obama was handling the crisis, being photographed with him and lauding his quick response.
As my bro noted, Mr. Christie wants to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2016, and he knows that won't happen if Mitt Romney wins this week.
Furthermore, he said, "Christie is betting that we're seeing the last gasp of the Tea Party movement," and that he'll be able to win a national election four years from now with a message of "screw politics, let's work together and get things done."
I'm not so sure the Tea Party is that over, or that Mr. Christie would be so cooperative on things that don't involve saving him and his state from drowning in sea water. He has, after all, been a vocal Obama critic up to now, so much so that the GOP gave him a prime spot at its national convention in Tampa. Just two weeks ago at a Romney rally, he said Mr. Obama was "like a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can't find it, and he won't find it in the next 18 days."
Then Sandy struck. New Jersey suddenly needed help from that nasty federal government that Republicans love to demonize. As Jon Stewart said after playing clips of Christie trashing the president, "Yeah, I guess he found that [expletive deleted] light switch, huh?"
Consistency, as they say, is the hobgoblin of little minds, and Mr. Christie knows he needs FEMA right now more than he needs to toe the Republican line. At a time when New Jersey is facing lost lives and untold destruction, he must put his civic and governmental responsibility above his party's White House aspirations.
Yessir, there's nothing like a natural disaster to get folks thinking in practical terms. Except maybe Mr. Romney, who in a primary debate famously advocated eliminating or greatly downsizing FEMA in favor of state control, while passing disaster aid to the private sector. At a post-Sandy campaign event, he refused 14 times to answer questions about FEMA. His campaign later released a statement that said states should be in charge of disaster response and that FEMA should help them. Which, um, is exactly what it already does.
If Mr. Christie's agenda includes a presidential run in 2016, he'll have to overcome Republican resentment of his loud and very public -- some would say opportunistic -- reversal so close to election day. But if he can somehow wangle the nomination -- if my brother is right about the shrinkage of the Tea Party -- he might appeal to many voters who are sick, sick, sick of gridlock and want to see their leaders working together.
Personally, I'm in favor of gridlock if it stop things I don't like. That, clearly, has been the GOP's attitude since Mr. Obama won four years ago, but since what they don't like is Mr. Obama himself, they've done their best to obstruct him at every turn.
Unfortunately, gridlock on addressing climate change contributed to the ferocity of Hurricane Sandy. Greenhouse gases from fossil fuels are melting the glaciers and ice caps at an accelerated rate. That, in turn, raises the sea level, which makes storm-induced flooding that much worse.
Nearly every legitimate scientist knows this, and they've been warning us for years. But politicians like Mr. Romney, who rake in contributions from oil billionaires like the Koch brothers, like to dance with the barons what brung 'em. So they call climate change an unproven "theory," or even a "hoax," and they fight every countermeasure, from more fuel-efficient cars to more clean-energy development.
Maybe Hurricane Sandy will spur action in the direction of sanity, or at least open some eyes. Last month, Mr. Christie conceded that climate change is real and caused by human behavior -- even as he pulled New Jersey out of a regional initiative to curb greenhouse gases. Wonder how he feels about that now?
It seems a little nuts to be talking about 2016 when we still have this year's presidential election to conclude, but in politics there's no such thing as strategizing too soon. Apparently, though, there is such a thing as responding too soon to an unprecedented storm.
So said Michael Brown, as in "Heckuva job, Brownie." He was the director of FEMA under George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina, the one most responsible for the infamously botched response. Mr. Brown resigned two weeks after Katrina struck. Yet there he was on the news, criticizing Mr. Obama for responding too quickly. Yes, you read that right.
Sandy turned out to be an October surprise like no other, and it may well turn out to be the deciding factor on Tuesday. But this election also will be famous for another female name: Abby, nickname for Abigael Evans. She's the 4-year-old on the YouTube video, sobbing to her mother "I'm tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney," as fat tears run down her pink cheeks.
There's never been a more eloquent summation of election fatigue. Thank heavens it's almost over.
First Published November 4, 2012 12:00 am