A Hurricane of Irony
How Hurricane Sandy may change the outcome of the election
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not necessarily reflect those of Loop 21.
While giving his acceptance speech during the Republican Convention, Mitt Romney stood looking out over a sea of red and white clad GOP faithful and joked that, "President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family.”
There was an irony in that speech, because a week before, Hurricane Isaac had swept away the first day of the 2012 GOP Convention, leading organizers to squeeze events into three days. Ironically, four years earlier, Hurricane Gustav had caused John McCain’s 2008 GOP Convention in Minnesota to be cut a day short, as the Gulf Coast was battered by destructive wind and rain. And yet, this year the raucous crowd of Tea Partiers and climate change deniers cheered at Romney’s “double zinger” that stabbed both the president and those pesky climate scientists constantly sounding alarm of melting polar ice caps and rising ocean waters.
This week, less than two months after Romney's speech, the eastern seaboard of the United States was battered and torn to shreds by a Hurricane that, if not birthed by the warming waters of climate change, were most certainly exacerbated by them. After all, we’ve endured record-high temperatures across the country this year and scientists say the permafrost layers of Antarctica are decades ahead of their horrific “melt” schedule.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, the country has seen a determined President Obama walking the ruins with a weary New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The two men were joined by FEMA chief William Fugate, who has been widely praised for his preparedness and vigor in attacking this issue. We have, however, not seen much of Mitt Romney, who over the past year has generally derided federal offices like FEMA, arguing for state responsibility.
The bigger political issue, from Romney’s perspective, is that he’s been effectively locked out of national media political coverage for five days. While the president went about doing his job and doing it well, he dismantled the Republican meme that he’s unwilling or incapable of crossing party lines and getting anything done. Christie has been effusive with praise of Obama’s handling of the crisis, saying “It’s really important to have the president of the United States acknowledge all the suffering that’s going on here in New Jersey." The comments set off Republicans Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, and they mocked Christie, suggesting the now-former high-level Romney surrogate could be a political game changer.
[READ MORE: A PERFECT STORM]
While Obama and Christie have been giving mutual foot massages on Marine One, Romney’s camp has struggled, fumbling through the week trying to find a way to stay relevant. They staged a tritely contrived disaster relief rally in the “hard hit” state of Ohio, replete with campaign “donations” bought by the campaign itself, and doubled down on lying ads about Jeep plants pulling out of battleground Ohio and heading to China. There are already whispers inside the Republican ranks suggesting that should Romney’s poll sliding continue into Tuesday, Sandy will have been responsible for dousing Romney’s fire.
Is Sandy’s oddly-timed arrival some kind of cantankerous political karma? That’s up to the country to sort out, but what’s for sure is that this “storm of the century” is the real October Surprise and it has poetic irony to rival Greek tragedies.
Some will talk of the political irony that Christie, the once staunch detractor of the president, now might very well serve as the most vibrant illustration to why Romney’s entire Obama thesis is bunk. One could be forgiven if they suspected a sophisticated political calculus beneath Christie’s support of Obama. After all, in the last five days Christie has staved off assumed 2014 gubernatorial challenger Newark Mayor Cory Booker by looking like a man who can get things done, and helped greatly diminish the chances of a Romney election and subsequent Republican incumbency in four years, which would neutralize Christie through 2020. If one were cynical and looking at Christie's moves through the lens of political calculus, the door seems to be wide open for a 2016 run. But even though political advancement is the natural bi-product of his actions, one must believe Christie’s embracing the president, and leaving political gamesmanship aside, is real because this crisis is very real.
This is all more personal than the presidential election to Christie, and he said as much during a stunningly candid interview on Fox and Friends earlier this week. He is truly grateful to Obama. And in a Romney campaign that’s made an art of flip-flopping and precisely planned duplicity, the political damage to Romney caused by Christie’s brash authenticity might be the greatest irony of all.
Either way, in just a few days the country will decide on a leader who will face the grave challenges head on or drown us in a sea of denial.
[MORE: HURRICANE SANDY: IN PICTURES]