Correspondent (North America)
NEW YORK – The storm raging across the American East Coast this week has led to power failures in over 8 million homes and a halt of all public transport. Hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated from coastal areas into security housing, while others have fled from their homes. Ongoing updates on the storm are the leading story throughout news channels, postponing current US presidential campaign operations and events. On US television, however, the political debate continues in the form of competing political advertisements. What has also happened, is that the storm is widely being interpreted as a demonstration of leadership capabilities of both presidential candidates, setting the stage of national disaster as a test for tackling the upcoming election next week.
While Mr. Romney is in no position of power to take action for the natural disaster, just today he held a ‘storm-relief event’ instead of his previously scheduled campaign rally, in which attendees were asked to bring along food to donate to victims of hurricane Sandy. President Obama has signed major disaster declarations for New York and New Jersey from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA is now providing temporary housing, covering rental payments for victims made homeless by the storm, distributed meals and taking aerial images of disaster zones. In a conference call to reporters, Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, said “The President’s focus is on the storm and governing the country and making sure people are safe”.
Disaster coordination is an important government role and is the essential help people rely on when faced with such an unpredictable situation. From a Republican perspective, however, this very function of government is seen as unnecessary spending and contributing towards the national debt. What this means is that choices such as where to ship rescue packages, where to provide available emergency housing for evacuees and how to manage hospitals during such an event are to be made by individual states. When asked about the necessity of government spending on emergency situations and natural disasters during a primary debate last year, Romney said, “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.” Adding to this, Romney had said the collective responsibility held by the federal government for emergency management is ‘immoral’.
Government success is in many ways defined by collective action. This is, not only intelligent politics in terms of working in mutual collaboration for a nation, but also resourceful. Federal assistance is vital for effective relief and immediate response on factors such as citizen security, repairs, reconstruction and medical aid. If individual states were to regulate disaster co-ordination this would entail holding responsibility for all funding while other states would simply remain uninvolved. Such unequal distribution of benefits is a recipe for disaster in itself.
The storm has undoubtedly posed a challenge to both candidates in terms of refining the politics of handling a natural disaster while running for presidency. With a halt of campaign events, and in an effort to mobilize voters, Bill Clinton has stepped in for President Obama, emphasizing the fundamental democratic policies that are at stake, “We’re coming down to the 11th hour. We’re facing a violent storm. It’s nothing compared to the storm we’ll face if you don’t make the right decision in this election.”
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