Sandy: A Political Storm

With less than a week until the presidential election, campaigns are uncharacteristically not the primary news story, and rightfully so. Over the past few days, Superstorm Sandy has pummeled the East Coast, causing more than eighty deaths in the US as it continues to swirl at the top of the news cycle. Sandy’s onslaught has meant fewer campaign events, less discussion of battleground states, and more focus on the storm’s path and burgeoning relief efforts.

How much attention should be paid to the election while New York City subway tunnels are flooded, millions are without power, and homes have been washed away? The answer may be a difficult one for political junkies to swallow, but it is obvious that the nation and the news should remain focused on the response to Superstorm Sandy.

I reached this conclusion while switching between CNN and MSNBC’s primetime coverage on Tuesday night. Both stations devoted most of their coverage to the storm and its connection to the election. They raised concerns about how the storm could affect voter turnout, discussing whether voters in the states most affected by Sandy will be willing and able to vote. This summarized the cable news programming until I spent a few minutes watching MSNBC’s The Ed Show, hosted by Ed Schultz. In his usual aggressive style, Schulz asked his two guests why Mitt Romney was not out touring the damage, talking to the “real” people affected by the storm, and taking advantage of a prime opportunity to look presidential.

I generally temper my expectations of political commentary shows, but I was still disappointed by this view of the situation. To my relief, one of the guests pointed out that a Romney trip to New Jersey or Virginia would divert important resources away from storm relief. He also correctly remarked that such a visit would appear blatantly political rather than as a genuine expression of empathy for the storm victims and would do more harm than good for Governor Romney and for the residents of the affected areas. I am also encouraged by Governor Chris Christie’s positive response to President Obama’s direction of relief efforts. The governor and the president are firmly on opposite sides of the ideological aisle, but Christie has wisely recognized that politics and campaigning can wait.

Scoring political points should not be the foremost concern in the minds of the media or the presidential candidates, but unfortunately not even an act of God can put a complete stop to political speculation and maneuvering. Commentators have zeroed in on potential political ramifications of the storm, politicians like Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have used the storm to talk about partisan disagreement over climate change, and Romney’s opponents have seized on his past comments on the size of the federal government and implications that it should do less in disaster relief.

Sandy’s aftermath is rife with political impact, and we should not comprehensively silence discussion of the election, the environment, or the size of government. Once the recovery has more significantly progressed, there should be more discussion about such issues. Of course, by the time waters have receded and power turns back on, Tuesday may have come and gone.

In the meantime, balance is absolutely necessary. Overall, the major news networks have done an admirable job of keeping attention focused on the recovery efforts and how people across the country can help the East Coast get back on its feet. Election-related interludes can and should continue, but my hope is that those without power, those who have lost loved ones, and those who now find themselves essentially homeless are not shoved aside for hypothetical electoral scenarios and perceived verbal gaffes.

There is no doubt that the election matters and that climate change and the federal bureaucracy are important issues, but right now there are millions of people with more pressing problems to worry about who deserve the national spotlight and as much help and support from the rest of the country as they can get.

Morgan Wilson ’14, a Crimson editorial editor, is a history concentrator in Currier House.

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