The politics of disaster - Monocolumn | Monocle


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31 October 2012

Natural disasters are supposed to be apolitical. Campaigning ceases, adverts are pared back, the daily round of polls disappears. Yet with just a few days to go until a presidential election, nothing is apolitical. Appearing presidential in a crisis could do wonders for Barack Obama, while the slightest whiff that the federal government is unable to cope will provide an opportunity for Mitt Romney.

Since the moment it became clear how bad the storm could be, this has become a tricky balancing act for both campaigns. Obama’s decision to head back to the White House to oversee the emergency response was obvious – his primetime press conferences have been both impressive and watched by millions. What he loses from not holding rallies in Florida and Ohio he more than compensates for by being on everyone’s television screens looking serious.

Mitt Romney, though, is in danger of being left out of the picture. His campaign cancelled all rallies out of “sensitivity” to the millions in Sandy’s path. Then, fearing Romney was being ignored, the campaign un-cancelled them only now they would be “storm relief events”. Quite what the residents of hurricane-free swing states Wisconsin and Ohio needed relief from is unclear.

Romney is not helped by his own policies. This is the man who believes government should be as small as possible, even going as far as to propose abolishing FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency currently doing such a good job of leading the response.

Nor can Romney find much support from his surrogates, both official and unofficial. Talk show host and all-round idiot Rush Limbaugh has suggested the media is trying its best to make Obama look good, while Donald Trump repeated his bizarre offer of a charity donation if Obama reveals he really is Kenyan. New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a keynote speaker at the Republican convention and a one-time contender for the vice-presidential slot, has gone out of his way to praise Obama’s handling of the storm, speaking about the president in glowing terms to every news outlet that waves a microphone under his nose.

Governor Christie has also impressed, something which supporters of the man who could be a Republican candidate in 2016, will not have failed to notice. Blunt, aggressive, yet caring, human, and as his kind words for Obama show, bipartisan. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is another would-be national leader who has preformed well, so too has Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York and a would-be Democratic candidate in four years.

The storm may have passed but the political effects of Sandy will still be felt long after the clean-up has been completed.


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