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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To Mosque or Not to Mosque

 

Last week Mayor Bloomberg gave what I thought was an excellent speech regarding the building of a mosque a few blocks from ground zero.

I happen to come down on the side of allowing the mosque to be built for all of the reasons that Mayor Bloomberg pointed out in his speech. We need to continue to uphold the fundamental rights and values that our country was founded upon. We need to allow for the freedom to practice religion and we need to continue to show tolerance and respect to minorities.

What we often forget is that the people who attacked us on 9/11 were Muslim extremists not your average muslim. I happen to be a Christian, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with many of the views or actions of Christian conservatives.

From what I have read the Imam behind the Muslim Community Center near ground zero has been attempting to offer a liberal interpretation of Islam and he argues that America is actually what an ideal Islamic society would look like because it is peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic.

If these are in fact the Imam’s views then shouldn’t we be encouraging his efforts as opposed to discouraging them ?

Rich And Running (Cont.)

I’ve written recently about wealthy individuals running for office.  The voters had their say on two of the fabulously rich candidates yesterday.  In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent more than $100 million of his fortune and eked out an unexpectedly narrow win over his Democratic challenger.  In New Jersey, where Governor Jon Corzine spent a measly $30 million on his re-election bid, voters turned thumbs down and he lost to the Republican candidate.

So, personal riches don’t guarantee success; indeed, there is every indication that some New York City voters rejected Bloomberg precisely because he spent such ridiculous sums of money on his campaign.  And, in a time of economic hardship when we are looking for every bit of “stimulus spending” we can find, shelling out $130 million on two election campaigns ain’t chicken feed.  Bloomberg’s and Corzine’s millions were injected into the struggling economy and no doubt helped “save” the jobs of printers, robo-call recorders, TV commercial writers, caterers, and other workers who performed campaign-related services.  Maybe the way out of the current recession is to force big-money Americans — say, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffett, for starters — to run for office and spend their own fortunes as part of the process.

Rich And Running

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is on track to set a new record for spending his own money in pursuit of political office.  He is projected to spend between $110 million and $140 million by election day.  It is a lot of money to us working stiffs, but just a drop in the bucket to Bloomberg, who is estimated to be worth about $16 billion.  His challenger, in contrast, has raised about $6 million.

So what?  Why should we care about this kind of spending disparity?  Bloomberg has been a pretty good mayor by most accounts.  Some other wealthy candidates, like Steve Forbes, spent millions of their personal fortunes without winning an election, which suggests that voters are savvy enough to independently determine who will get their vote without being swayed by an endless parade of the candidate’s self-financed TV commercials.  There may be advantages to wealthy candidates, too.  Presumably the independently wealthy are less likely to be tempted by bribery and can concentrate on governing, rather than constantly engaging in  fund-raising, with its attendant, inherent corruption.  And maybe successful entrepreneurs who have made millions in the business world are better suited to managing the governmental bureaucracies in large cities and states or have a more sophisticated understanding of the capitalistic system that will help them to develop economic policy.

Nevertheless, there is something galling about wealthy people buying their way into political office.  It just seems unfair, particularly when the personal wealth being spent is inherited wealth.  Under our current system, however, it also seems almost inevitable.  Election campaigns start too early and run on too long, and any candidate with a hope of success in any significant race has to have millions in the bank to pay for the commercials, and polls, and advisors, and campaign organizations.  Moreover, right now there aren’t many alternatives.  As the last presidential election indicated, the public financing system is a bit of a joke.  Both candidates promised to use it, but when President Obama took off to a huge fundraising advantage he declined public funds and used his considerable war chest to help ensure victory.  The only way to avoid that kind of scenario is to mandate public financing or strictly limit all spending — two scenarios that have free speech implications — or to make campaigns so brief that less money is needed to run them.

No plausible solutions to this predicament are on the horizon, and with all of the other issues our country is facing financing elections is not a top priority.  For now, we’ll just have to endure the reality of millionaire politicians and hope that voters continue to judge them on their merits and not on their pocketbooks.