With about a week left in the seemingly endless US Presidential campaign, Superstorm Sandy has rolled into our national consciousness – transforming everything she touches.
Millions of Americans have been – and will continue to be – personally touched by the ferocity of this so-called superstorm. People will lose homes, communities will suffer casualties, and the routines of “ordinary life” will be impacted for the next several weeks (at least).
It is a “Big Deal,” really.
The clumsy, failed response to Hurricane Katrina was a painful lesson for our nation. President George W. Bush became a lame-duck early in his second term because of the botched federal response/recovery operations.
Disasters happen – they always have, always will. Citizens understand that natural disasters are different than human-caused disasters (ref: 9/11). While we expect our government to deter and prevent human-caused tragedies, we know nature cannot be controlled.
We do not expect our leaders to be able to stop natural disasters from happening, but we do hold them accountable for preparing for disasters, responding during crisis, and promoting policies that make recovery after the fact – easier rather than harder.
Sandy is an unfolding tragedy with casualties, costs, and consequence. It is a crisis that will reveal the character of our nation, the affected states, and our president. Such times give us a rare glimpse what our leaders think and how they perform. We demand leaders with the skill and talent required to keep us safe – at least as safe as possible – given the circumstances.
This superstorm provides us with a true “October Surprise.” It was born of nature and not human invention. It is neither contrived, nor inherently political. But it is a significant factor for the last chapter of this campaign. Truth be told, it showcases for all of us the stark differences between the two men running for the US Presidency.
Early in the primaries, Governor Romney advocated a divestiture of federal emergency functionalities; he recommended a state or private answer for the responsibilities associated with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery in clear, unequivocal terms. During that June 2011 debate, Romney seized upon FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) question as an opportunity to hold up federal programming examples that would be models for his budget-cutting strategies.
President Obama on the other hand, made emergency management a priority upon taking office in 2009 hiring a former Governor Jeb Bush appointee (Craig Fugate) to head FEMA. Fugate was an old hand at emergency management. He led Florida through fires, hurricanes, and a mix of other large scale disasters. Fugate was hired to implement interoperability policies empowering state/local responders, and to facilitate comprehensive federal capabilities.
No spin, no exaggeration, and no doubt.
Mitt Romney, this Mitt Romney, believes the federal government is too large – too bureaucratic – to function effectively. He earnestly believes that our society would be better if we had a smaller, less active federal government. Whatever the states cannot do, the private sector would handle – at least, according to Romney.
Barack Obama, our current President, has demonstrated a trust in a federal government empowered with appropriate authority and responsibility to do the “big things” that the states cannot do, things that the private sector should not do. He made supporting state emergency management strategies a priority: he invested in staff, intergovernmental training, and tools for local decision-makers – and it has paid off.
For good or ill, the 2012 Presidential Election has felt largely irrelevant for many of us. We are not identified by either major party as a “battleground state” and we have seen far less of the candidates (or their money) than the eight (8) states the American political machine is fixated upon.
This campaign it would be relatively easy to assume that we are insignificant to the outcome of the race; some in fact, are counting upon a low turnout in such places.
And yet, Sandy reminds us that the campaign is relevant.
The decisions made by the next US President will impact all of us – in and out of battleground states. Words matter – words drive policy. Some policies help, some harm. We are responsible for our decisions – we will live (or not) with the consequences.
US Presidents determine the capabilities of federal agencies (like FEMA), funding priorities, and make personnel decisions that impact our Oregon on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. The government brought to power with a US President has immense power to influence (or not) the policies we value – we cannot take this lightly.
Next week we will elect a President, Congress, state and local officers. We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking our actions are irrelevant.
We define ourselves each and every time we have an opportunity to vote. What we choose (or choose not to choose), says volumes about us. We cannot afford to sit this one out, make the time – make your mark.