Saturday, November 03, 2012

This Year's Real October Surprise

            So, what is this year’s true October surprise?  I’ll address four possibilities.  

            First, let’s look at the obvious choice: Superstorm Sandy.  Many people are claiming that this was the October surprise that will catapult President Obama to re-election.  If you can believe Nate Silver, Obama’s lead in the polls has now solidified to the point where Romney’s chances have slipped to 16%.  To what else can we attribute this development but the desire to rally around the President at the time of a national disaster?  Just imagine an election taking place a week after 9/11.  W would have won in an absolute landslide.

Personally, though, I refuse as a matter of principle to refer to Sandy as an October surprise.  Sure, Sandy is a devastating storm.   But folks, we are now living in a world in which, to all but the flat-earthers and those who profit from the status quo, climate change is real.   How, then, can anyone call a devastating storm a surprise?  Superstorm Sandy is the new normal. 

            When Al Gore started talking about climate change, laypeople were largely being asked to take his word for it.  Gore could point to legions of renowned scientists who were supporting his conclusion, not to mention the results of continuing ice-melting in the polar regions of the globe.  But those of us who live in the continental USA hadn’t yet seen enough dramatic evidence to prove his point.  So we either chose on faith to believe him, if we were a Democrat, or to mock him, if we were a Republican.  Such is the state of our polarized body politic. 

            “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006, one year after Hurricane Katrina.   Katrina could easily have been brushed off at the time as an anomaly – the result of an unusually windy storm and a city ill-prepared for a deluge.  But after Gore’s movie came out, sane Americans began to ask questions.   Was Katrina a fluke?  Is there really something going on here that will matter to more than just polar bears, fish, and “third world” nations?   

            Well folks, I don’t think the jury is out any longer.  Here in DC, since the beginning of 2010, we’ve had one bizarre weather event after another.  First, there was the freakishly powerful snowfall now referred to as “Snowmaggeden.”   Then there was a significant earthquake that rocked a city that NEVER gets earthquakes.  This was followed by an entire year with virtually no cold weather – it felt more like Miami than the Mid-Atlantic.  Then, residents of the city all got to learn a new word – thanks to the crazy “derecho” thunderstorm that left us all without power for days.  And now, we’ve experienced just a little bit of the deadly superstorm known as Sandy.

            Toto, maybe we’re back in Kansas, because this sure as hell isn’t DC anymore.   
            To call Superstorm Sandy a “surprise” is to deny that we live in the 21st century.  Storms are only going to get fiercer and more frequent.  Don’t take Al Gore’s word for it or, God forbid, listen to scientists.  Just consult your own eyes and ears.  Climate change is upon is, and it is here to stay.  The more we ignore it, the sooner it will get worse.  I realize that neither Presidential candidate had the stones to talk about climate change during this election season.  Strike that – Romney mentioned it only to criticize Obama for paying attention to it earlier in his Presidency, and Obama chose radio silence as a response to Mitt’s charges.  That, apparently, was all the attention the issue deserved.  And so … families bury their loved ones, suffer through homelessness, or rot for days in freezing buildings, and much of America still looks at these events as “natural” disasters.  

            As a follower of the philosophy of Spinoza, I should have no trouble calling the results of climate change “natural” disasters; after all, from the perspective of Spinozism, human beings are simply part of Nature … or God.  But we should at least man-up and take credit for deadly storms, earthquakes, droughts, fires, and the like.  Climate change is ours; we broke it, we own it.  Let’s stop calling its results “acts of God” unless we’re going to show the same courtesy to the Holocaust.  Frankly, my friends, when all is said and done, what we’re doing to the environment will cause more deaths than Hitler – or so the scientists say.  Personally, I think it’s time we start believing them.

            Second, let’s move inland from the mid-Atlantic coast and out to the great state of Ohio.  I want to take a look at a political ad that has blown up in Mitt Romney’s face, and may have cost him his last chance to win in the one place he could least afford to lose.
            By all accounts, Ohio is the most critical battleground state in this election.  Obama looks at it as his firewall, and Romney as his opportunity to break through the difficult electoral math.  So, desperate for a chance to win his way into the hearts of Buckeyes, Mitt approved the following advertisement to be aired during the last week before the election:  “Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama. Fact checkers confirm that his attacks on Mitt Romney are false.  The truth?  Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He is supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News. Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”

            Surprise!  It’s not true.  Here was Chrysler’s response to this ad:  “Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China. It’s simply reviewing the opportunities to return Jeep output to China for the world’s largest auto market. U.S. Jeep assembly lines will continue to stay in operation.”  And here’s the response from a GM spokesperson: "We've clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country."

            The real problem here is that the Romney campaign doesn’t have any real facts to back up its attacks.  But seriously, how can this be a surprise?  Mitt has been on all sides of all issues this campaign.  He’s clearly not running a “we have to level with the American public” campaign like Mondale ran.  Nor is he running like Reagan, and trying to present the American public with a consistent, compelling vision of governance.  He’s just winging it – telling every audience what he thinks they want to hear, and paying no attention to the obvious inconsistencies, whether they involve inconsistencies with what he himself has said or inconsistencies with the facts.

            So is that bizarre ad an October surprise?  Not to anyone who has paid attention.

My third contestant for “October surprise” is one that nobody is talking about – just how friggen bad the Lakers have played since they put together a super team of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gazol, four potential Hall of Famers.  Most people were predicting this team to go to the finals this year.  And many were predicting them to win the title.  And yet, in their 11 pre-season and regular season tilts this year, they have won precisely the same number of games as Mitt Romney has won Presidential elections.

Is that an October surprise?  No.  It’s an October shock!   Nobody saw this coming.   Nobody predicted just how lethargic and non-athletic these guys would look.  Apparently, rehabbing from injuries and/or simply growing old will do that to a man.

Does this have anything to do with the Presidential election, however? Well, no.  But I couldn’t resist including it in my list.  It does happen to be the most surprising development of the month of October.  And if you’re a Los Angeles Laker season ticket holder, it might also be the most painful.

That leads me to the fourth and final contestant for “October Surprise.”  It also happens to be the real McCoy.   I’m referring to what Rush Limbaugh has referred to as Chris Christie’s “man love” for Barack Obama.

Go to this link and marvel for yourself at the horse’s ass that is Rush Limbaugh.  I used to think he was a menace.  Now, I’m beginning to question his membership in our species.

Folks, what New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie did this week in going out of his way to praise the President’s handling of Superstorm Sandy is simply an example of (a) a Governor who is actually trying to do his job for his constituents, rather than playing politics, and (b) a man who is expressing gratitude to a benefactor.  Both of these points are worthy of note.
The former is the epitome of what makes a politician a true statesman.  Believe me, now that I’m in my 28th year of government service, I’ve seen so many high-level officials place doing their job beneath advancing their own careers.  Here, finally, we have found an example of a Governor who said, screw that; I’m here to serve the people of New Jersey and not my own political future.  Bravo, sir.

As for Christie’s apparent need to express gratitude where gratitude was due, this is the epitome of what makes a politician worthy of the term “religious.”  There are few values more important to a person’s religiosity than that of gratitude.  It is what ensures that we honor our parents, our teachers, our spouse, our truest friends, and our God.   Perhaps Christie’s expressions of appreciation to a President who acted above and beyond the call of duty to help Christie’s own state was nothing more than a guy who was raised to always respond to those who have helped us with love.  Call it religiosity, call it class, call it whatever you want.  Once we start devaluing gratitude, we can kiss our civil society goodbye.  It’s that important.  And Chris Christie showed us what it looks like.

Was the extent of Christie’s embrace of Obama’s Sandy response a surprise?  Yeah, it was to me.  I wouldn’t have expected him to use words like “outstanding” in reference to a man he has been trying to defeat for many months.  Might the extent of Christie’s praise for Obama have an impact on the election?  Again, the answer is yes.  This could be one of the last things people will consider when they head into the voting booths.

My friends, this election was supposed to be close, but Obama has had a clear advantage in the electoral college since the outset.  Romney had no margin for error.  And thanks to Chris Christie, that margin might now be gone.   It’s no wonder that the guy on Fox and Friends asked Christie, a day after the storm, if Mitt Romney might be coming to the Garden State to accompany Christie and survey the damage due to Sandy.

Here was Christie’s response:  “I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested.  I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics and I could care less about any of that stuff.  I have a job to do.  I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power, I’ve got devastation on the shore, I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state.  If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don’t know me.”

            Yes, I’m surprised by that response.  Even more to the point, I’m impressed – but not so much because I think it has helped to re-elect Barack Obama (who I think deserves to lose this election, though less so than Romney deserves to lose).  I’m impressed because it shows that there is still a statesman in America who is actually capable of putting principle before politics.  

            Chris Christie – your unexpected show of humanity is this year’s October surprise.


Mary Lois said...

You had me until Chris Christie. Well, actually I don't know anything about the Lakers and couldn't care less about them, but I decided to give you a pass there.

But I can't let your assessment of Christie go without a comment. Christie gave up on Romney months ago. His speech at the Republican convention was self-promoting and obviously contrived not to praise Romney but to clear a place for himself at the table. He is a baffling character, to be sure, charming one minute, salt-of-the-earth American, and obnoxious the next--a bully with a mean streak a mile wide. He loves being governor of New Jersey but has done little if anything to help the state and a lot to harm its economic situation (lying about the tunnel to Manhattan and pocketing the money for cronies, for one example) and educational superiority (instructing his secretary of education to table the applications for federal aid that would have guaranteed millions in funding). His embrace of Obama was opportunistic, nothing else, a chance to be seen as more broad-minded than he is as well as to look as much like a hero as he could to his state in a disaster. This state needs and will get federal disaster relief and he wants credit for it. He does not deserve a second term as governor, much less a shot at the White House, but he and his party know that Romney is toast and he is next in line. Period.

Daniel Spiro said...

Mary Lois,

I just called it as I saw it. I can't hold myself out as an expert on Christie. If nothing else, though, you'd have to admit that it was nice to see a Democrat and a Republican agreeing on anything. We don't get much of that any more -- even if there's no election going on.

Mary Lois said...

There is something insidious in Christie's appeal. I'm glad, of course, to see any Republican being generous enough to admit that President Obama is doing a good job, but that's simply not enough. Christie is two-faced and hard-hearted beneath that gladhanding salesmanship. Be careful who you call a statesman.