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Campaigning Up a Storm

In the immediate aftermath of the Islamist attacks on America’s embassies throughout the Middle East, which resulted in the death of an ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, a determinedly Democratic friend of ours expressed confidence that the events would prove a benefit to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Various media were in high dudgeon about Mitt Romney criticizing a cable from the embassy in Egypt that seemed to sympathize with their attackers, and our friend anticipated that the inevitable rally-round-the-president reaction to a national security crisis would carry Obama to victory.
It remains to be seen how the election will turn out, but it is not too soon to conclude that our friend was wrong. Despite the best efforts of many of the national media to emphasize Romney’s supposed gaffe and ignore the series of deadly mistakes made by the Obama administration, polls suggest that a majority of Americans now disapprove of the president’s actions in the matter.
Although it will have to happen much more quickly, the Hurricane Sandy issue seems likely to follow a similar trajectory.
Many of Obama’s cheerleaders in the media saw the devastating storm as a an opportunity for him to appear “presidential,” a lucky break given that four years of being president have apparently afforded so few such opportunities, and their resulting coverage made the most of it. The post-storm news cycle has been filled with images of a solemn-looking Obama waxing concerned, signing important pieces of paper, and walking purposefully along the devastated shores of New Jersey with that beleaguered state’s portly governor. Democratic pundits seem particularly pleased to constantly re-run the effusive praise of Republican and erstwhile Romney supporter Gov. Chris Christie, whose comments have probably served him well in his 2013 re-election race in deeply Democratic New Jersey but utterly destroyed any hopes he might had for winning a Republican nomination outside his state.
There’s been the expected condemnation of Romney, too, and even ridicule of his request that supporters donate money or any needed supplies to the storm victims. The criticism has been that Romney callously failed to visit the storm-damaged areas, but if he had the criticism would have been for interfering with the rescue efforts for a cheap photo-op, and the jibes about his well-intentioned fund-raising effort suggest he wasn’t going to escape ridicule in any case.
The problem with the strategy is that the last weekend of the election is almost certain to be filled with stories of looting, dumpster-diving, power outages, gas shortages, transportation failures, and all of the other unpleasantness that invariably follows a natural disaster in a densely populated area. New outlets will be forced to run these stories even as they offer up more assurances about the excellent job that the government is doing, and the discrepancy will be stark.
Expect the Romney campaign to wisely refrain from any criticism of the recovery effort, which would only provoke a charge of politicizing a tragedy from a media that has spent the past days eagerly politicizing the tragedy, but the failure of the administration to live up to its implied promises will go without saying. This is not to say that any government can prevent the vicissitudes of nature, but that is what the press and the Democratic party have maintained during every Republican administration, and it is only fair that they be held to the same standard now.
The footage of Obama and Christie walking along the shore was touching, even reminiscent of Rick Blaine and Capt. Louis Renault walking into the “Casablanca” night and proclaiming the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but images of the post-photo-op mayhem should be fresher on Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

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Politics in a Hurricane

There is less than a week to go before the most consequential presidential election in generations, and the big story is the weather.

We wouldn’t want to downplay the significance of Hurricane Sandy, which has killed 50 people, severely disrupted the lives of millions, and caused untold billions of dollars of damage to beloved and irreplaceable property, and we sympathize with all of those who have been affected by the storm. Although the weather has been quite pleasant around here lately, those of us who live on the plains know all too well how very brutal nature can be.

Still, one hopes there will be some space left in the news for the election. Sandy’s winds seem to have blown all mention of the presidential race off the front pages and out of the newscasts, and that is a shame. As horrible as the storm has been, it is not at all hyperbolic to say that a second Obama term could be even more destructive.

What little attention has been paid to the presidential election in the past few days has mostly concerned how it might be affected by the storm. Some alarmists have fretted that Obama will somehow contrive to delay the election, which is too paranoid even for our tastes, but most of the speculation has concerned which candidate is most likely to benefit from the weather.

Any break from the news that has lately seen Mitt Romney surging in the polls is thought to be beneficial to Obama, a plausible theory, but the four years’ worth of unpleasant stories won’t be immediately forgotten and are bound to resurface once the campaigns resume today. There’s also a hope among the Democrats that Obama will seem more presidential when the helpful media broadcast images of him solemnly running the government’s response to the disaster, which is also plausible, and especially walking around the rubble with whatever elected officials can find time for him, but a president’s role in these affairs is mostly limited to signing orders to spend money and there have already been countless images of that. Every natural disaster now entails the usual cries about global warming, which is still considered an issue for the Democrats, but no one seems to pay them much heed any longer.

Another theory holds that Romney could benefit if lingering bad weather, power outages, road closings, and various clean-up chores keep large numbers of voters away from the voting booths. This strikes us as reasonable, given that Romney’s voters will crawl across broken glass on their knees to vote while Obama’s supporters seem to be less enthused these days, but the areas that are most likely to still be struggling through Election Day are in states that usually vote Democratic in any circumstances. There’s also a good possibility that Obama will blunder through the hurricane, or at least say something that reminds people of their pre-storm reasons for voting against him, and a good probability that at least some of the storm victims will be without electricity or have some other valid complaint on Election Day.

Here’s hoping that all who were affected by the storm recover quickly, and that any effect the storm has on the election will benefit the challenger. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as they say.

— Bud Norman