SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)– This is a devastating storm and our prayers are with the millions of people who are suffering and whose lives have changed so dramatically. There will still be an election next Tuesday and it was already too close to call. And this election between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney offers a very clear choice and a window to the political, demographic, and cultural divisions that define the United States today.
But Hurricane Sandy adds a whole new dimension, a new set of variables into the mix – and further leads us into the unknown. Who is helped? Who is hurt? How will this affect turnout?
I already had more questions than answers before this awful event happened, but allow me to speculate. On one hand, we know historically from these tragedies that low income and a disproportionate percentage of minorities have fewer places to go, lose so much, and are generally more likely to wait longer to get power restored and stability returned to their lives. While victims are of all colors and classes, those who have already struggled will mainly focus on their immediate needs of food, shelter, transportation. At the same time, it is always a struggle to get voters who have so many other things on their minds to their regular polling places. What if some new polling places have to be established or consolidated? How do the campaigns get the word out in time? Think New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Atlantic City, Richmond, as well as Cleveland, Charleston (West Virginia) and many other cities that are hard hit. This certainly cannot help President Obama – especially in the key battleground states.
On the other hand, one of the major unwritten powers any president has is the capacity to look “presidential”. That is one of those things that the Founding Fathers never got down to. It is one of the great questions that iconic historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. posed in the nineties: “Would Lincoln have been Coolidge in the 1920s? Would Coolidge have been Lincoln in the 1860s?” How a leader shows the right stuff during a terrible crisis is not statutory – it comes from within. I recall taking my first flight after September 11, 2001 to Dayton, Ohio to speak at a leadership forum at the university. The question I had been asked to address was whether or not Americans expect their elected officials to be of the highest personal morals. We had done some polling in late August ( a different era, we learned) and found the answer to be “yes”. As I wrote my thoughts on the flight and saw one answer after another revealing how much the public preferred the perfect Boy Scout to be in power, I suddenly drew a bold line across the sheet of yellow legal paper and under it I wrote, “And then there’s Rudy” – a reference to the personally-tarnished mayor of New York who became everyone’s definition of what leadership should be in time of a crisis.
As I write this piece and brace for more winds in Upstate New York and watch the utter horror unfold in cities more hard hit, I do see a President who is in charge, who is suspending his campaign for a few days, who has mobilized the Federal Emergency Management Administration, been on the telephone with governors and mayors of both parties, and has received praise from even a strong critic like New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie. It is an unwritten power, something that even former Governors who want his job cannot perform.
In short, I didn’t know what will happen on November 6 well before Hurricane Sandy. I still don’t – but it does make things even more confounding.