Last week Mother Nature fired a warning shot across the bow of American politics.
The tragic irony of this devastating disaster is that it’s come as a wake-up call on the eve of the potentially game-changing November elections.
If nothing else, Hurricane Sandy reminds us that, yes, without the centralized power of the federal government, states and localities are at the mercy of disasters (whether natural or economic) that know no boundaries.
But Hurricane Sandy appears to be sending us an even more ominous message, “The worst is yet to come if you continue to violate the laws of nature in blind pursuit of the cardinal law of capitalism: maximum immediate private corporate profit.”
On the first count, to hear the Republican presidential ticket and most Republican officeholders during the current election cycle – that is, until this latest natural disaster – one would have thought that “big government” is to blame for all of America’s ills and sins.
But when Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, that state’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, faced with a natural disaster of devastating magnitude, welcomed federal aid, the one government entity capable of effectively dealing with the challenges confronting the state and safeguarding his political career.
Christie, who had been an outspoken critic of the president, praised to the skies the indispensable role of the president and the federal government in helping mitigate the disaster’s worst effects.
Political expediency knows no partisan boundaries, nor adherence to the truth.
Questioned during the primary debates over whether to diminish the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in disaster relief and turn over more responsibility to the states, Mitt Romney responded, “Absolutely.
“And every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction.
“And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better,” the Republican presidential candidate added, according to the Huffington Post.
This week Romney campaign staffers were assuring the public that Romney would not do away with or defund FEMA.
But if last year’s budget fight over disaster relief is any indication, a Romney-Ryan victory could potentially decimate FEMA.
Last year, House Republicans insisted that any increase in disaster aid spending should come from 40 percent cuts to funds for equipping and training first responders.
House Republicans nearly forced a government shutdown over disaster aid funding, and ultimately succeeded in making massive cuts to the program, according to the Daily Kos.
In his surprise endorsement of President Obama’s re-election, conservative New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, bluntly wrote in an editorial for Bloomberg View, “The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast – in lost lives, lost homes and lost business – brought the stakes of next Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.
“Our climate is changing,” he wrote. “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be – given the devastation it is wreaking – should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”
Mr. Bloomberg listed the various steps that President Obama had taken over the last four years to confront the issue of climate change, including pushing regulations to curtail emissions from cars and power plants.
In the face of incontestable scientific evidence to the contrary, Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, and Republicans now controlling the House have denied that there is such a thing as “climate change” threatening human existence, much less that it is primarily the result of human activity.
So for those who have not yet voted or who plan not to vote, I’d like to leave you with one thought.
Which side are you on?
On the side of those who would deny the crucial role of the federal government and the dangers of climate change, and who will fight tooth and nail to keep us from doing something about it?
Or on the side of those who recognize the dangers and are willing to do something about it?
A defeat of Republicans across the board, in the House, Senate and White House will not by itself bring about the changes those of us on the progressive side of history are wishing and fighting for.
This time around it will take the continued organization and mobilization of the people to win partial demands at first and then more fundamental demands as the movements gain strength, wisdom, constituents and unity in action.
Will the day after the elections open the road to further consolidation of political power in the hands of the far right personified in the Koch Brothers and others of their ilk?
Or will it open the road to consolidation in due time to the power of labor and its allies, in all their hues, genders and sexual preferences, all ages and national origins regardless of immigration status?
The people’s movements will decide.
Photo: Kathleen Cappucci waits with her nephew, Jack Wiatrak, seven-months-old, to apply for disaster assistance at a FEMA tent in the Staten Island borough of New York, Nov. 4. Seth Wenig/AP