When Hurricanes Strike, Forget Politics

Every day, those of us in the Midwest read stories about awful conditions in Staten Island and other parts of New York and New Jersey — people without power, without gas, without food, without help, and without hope, a week after Sandy the Superstorm made landfall — and we shudder.

The media is eager to label politicians as winners or losers in all of this.  They ask:  Did President Obama do a great job in the first 24 hours, or has he fallen down on the job recently, when he left the East Coast for the campaign trail?  Was New York City Mayor Bloomberg crazy to even consider holding the New York City Marathon under these circumstances?  And will FEMA ever perform flawlessly when a hurricane scores a near-direct hit on a major city?

It’s ludicrous to try to identify political winners and losers when disaster strikes; it just cheapens the colossal human tragedy to view it solely from a political perspective.  The conditions left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are unimaginable to those of us who are accustomed to modern life — a group that includes all of the wretched souls in New York and New Jersey who have had their lives turned upside down.  Imagine living in a small apartment in one of the affected communities, having to deal with overflowing toilet bowls, spoiled food in the refrigerator, rotting trash at the curbside, no food or water, unheated rooms in near-freezing temperatures, and fears of armed looters when darkness falls.  The victims of Hurricane Sandy can’t understand why, a week later, they aren’t being helped to get their lives back to normal, and I expect they find it infuriating that the media has passed judgment on which politician performed well and which didn’t, and then moved on to another story.

If there is a lesson about this, it is that natural disasters are, in fact, disasters — incidents that have catastrophic consequences that can’t be easily reversed or repaired.   Mayors, Governors, and Presidents do the best they can, but often the scale of the disaster makes appalling human suffering unavoidable.  We should just accept that fact, let the governmental bodies do their job under difficult circumstances, try to help however we can, and not be quite so quick to judge.

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A Last Dispatch From Battleground Ohio

The soldier, winded and hunched, ran the last few yards before leaping into the Foxhole that had been dug behind the carcass of Big Bird.  “Sergeant Jones, I’ve got bad news,” he said.  “I think we’ve lost Nesser.”

Dammit!  What happened, Private Ujay?”

“He was trying to weave through that field of empty chairs when he was knocked down by a fusillade of negative TV ads.  He wasn’t wearing his ear plugs or a gas mask, and he started retching after hearing about the President’s economic record.  The last I saw of him, he was being dragged away by a team of pollsters to participate in a focus group.”

What the hell!  I’ve told everyone that they need to keep the masks on, because the noise and poisonous messages are more than any man can bear.

“He said he wanted to breathe free and watch the Buckeyes game on TV, sir.”

Well, there’s no saving the poor bastard now,” Sergeant Jones said.  She peered over Big Bird’s soiled yellow feathers, scanning the terrain.  “Get down!” she barked, as a fusillade of binders full of women rained down.

“I’ve got more bad news, sir,” Ujay reported.  “Some of the members of the platoon are saying there’s nothing to worry about and no need to get ready for the next attack.”

Blast!  Didn’t they watch that first presidential debate and see what happens when you start to take things for granted?

Another soldier appeared and saluted.  “Message from Captain Duhamel, sir.  He says the Bain Capital Brigade is approaching from the east.  He thinks they’re hoping to outsource us all to China.”

Thanks for the warning, Private Jeff — but we all know that those briefcase-carrying Bain bastards are ruthless.  They’ll stop at nothing once they’ve decided to downsize.”  The sergeant paused for a moment.  “Well, we know that we don’t have enough horses and bayonets to make a stand here.  Time to move out.

“But Sarge — if we move we’ll lose the cover we’ve got here in this Foxhole.”

You didn’t build that, Mack!  Now move!

The bedraggled platoon scrambled out of the Foxhole, past the hulk of Big Bird.  Nearby, hordes of “ground game” campaign workers were dragging reluctant Ohioans to the polls for a final day of early voting.  A black motorcade barreled past, hurling campaign literature about a five-point plan at passersby trying to dodge the Obama volunteers talking about how a 7.9 percent unemployment rate means the economy is on the road to recovery.  A crowd of “campaign surrogates” traded punches on a street corner, and a phalanx of Jeeps carrying members of the 47 Percent Regiment were advancing from the west.  Overhead, the voices of pundits filled the air, raining invective and talking points on the few remaining civilians not under cover.  And Bill Clinton and David Axelrod were spinning like tops, knocking people down as Joe Biden’s Cheshire Cat grin blinded the soldiers and his maniacal laugh echoed off the downtown office buildings.

“My God!  It’s carnage,” Private Ujay shouted, as he ran after Sergeant Jones.  “We’ll never survive this, never!”

Yes we will,” Sergeant Jones bellowed.  “We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.  It’s what you get when you live in Battleground Ohio.”