In the 1972 film The Candidate, Senate candidate Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is visiting the site of a forest fire devastating Malibu, where he is explaining to reporters the environmental conditions that allow such a disaster to occur. Moments later, his opponent, Sen. Crocker Jarmon, arrives from out of nowhere in a helicopter, just long enough to tell reporters that he has just spoken to the president, who in one hour will declare a state of emergency for the area; Jarmon went on to say that he when flies back to Washington, he is going to sponsor the “Jarmon Watershed Bill” which would call for federally-backed disaster insurance. McKay, a liberal activist, clearly knows what he is talking about and his concern real, while the conservative Jarmon is being opportunistic and clearly could not give a damn about the Malibu community or environmental concerns; wild fires are a frequent occurrence in California, and only now that he is actually in an election fight does the opportunistic Jarmon decide to show “concern” for the victims.
I read a contemporary review of the film, and the reviewer complained that it offers no insight into current political realities and is “dated,” a relic of the 1970s. Is that to say that people today “benefit” more from the insipid programming they view today? Is there something “wrong” with an intelligent and uncompromising examination of the issues? The issues of today are no different than 40 years ago, yet the media seems far less willing to discuss them; to discuss them would be “un-American” and promote “violence” against the status quo, as McKay was accused of doing in his closing statement during his debate with Jarmon.
We see very much the same dynamic in the 2012 presidential campaign and in the both candidates response to Hurricane Sandy. Unlike George Bush and his FEMA “team” during Hurricane Katrina, there has been no “confusion,” delays, or lack of coordination which seemed to be politically-motivated; on the contrary, Obama instructed FEMA to “lean forward” to insure that resources and aid are promptly delivered and continued “for the duration.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie praised Obama for his “leadership” and rapid reaction in the matter, which has prompted complaints from his fellow Republicans. CNN—predictably off-target—absurdly accused Republican Christie of trying to “tip” the election in favor of Obama, although most creditable observers only see Christie’s “usual” blunt assessment of the situation.
While the federal emergency apparatus has been in full swing (again in contrast to that of Katrina), Mitt Romney has been plainly opportunistic, flailing about haplessly. After FEMA’s shameful response to Katrina under the Bush Administration, some people might actually be fooled into thinking that Romney’s pledge to terminate FEMA has “merit”—claiming that it would be “immoral” to fund such and agency if it means increasing the budget deficit— but what it really means is that, once again, he has little empathy for the suffering of anyone but his own kind. On the other hand, Obama has demonstrated that presidents with different philosophies use their authority in different ways—such as for good, rather than indifference. Although Romney has predictably pretended that he never said such a thing about FEMA after being repeatedly asked to “clarify” his remarks since the disaster began, in an editorial, The New York Times took Romney to task for his lack of empathy for those in need:
Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt… It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.
It is unlikely that most people read about the 1889 Johnstown Flood in their high school history books, but if you did you would discover the same callous attitude by the “elite” toward working people; this disaster, the most deadly before 9-11, was caused when wealthy “captains of industry” created their own lakefront playground out of the South Fork Dam in Pennsylvania, lowering it in order to create a roadway for their own use, and covering the spillways with a fish screen to keep fish inside the lake for sport; unfortunately the screens also gathered debris, which was seldom removed. On May 28, up to ten inches of rain fell during the worst storm in the region’s history, causing the dam to break and eventually destroying everything in its path, killing over 2,000 people. In its aftermath, none of the millionaires in the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club accepted responsibility for the disaster, although a few “donated” money for relief efforts.
Romney’s own callous notions would force cash-strapped states with few resources to fend for themselves. Failing that, Romney has offered another “example” of how emergency relief would be run in a Romney administration, by setting-up his own “volunteer” emergency supply network in closely-contested Virginia, which many people involved in the disaster relief have accused of being uncoordinated, amateurish, and unnecessary—only getting in the way of the work of creditable relief organizations. His "altruism" also seems to be motivated by partisan politics; it has been reported that he has only offered "aid" to states with Republican governors.
Meanwhile, Frida Ghitis, “special to CNN,” has “warned” that one should not vote for a president based on his response to a natural disaster—meaning just because Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy is markedly different than Bush’s to Katrina, we shouldn’t take into consideration the level of humanity demonstrated in either case (remember Barbara Bush’s comment that it was “scary” that Katrina’s mostly black refugees might actually stay in Texas, and that the “hospitality” that they were being shown shacked-up in the Houston Astrodome was “working very well for them” because they were “underprivileged anyway”). But Ghitis’ op-ed was more likely motivated by reasons of being a disgruntled Hillary supporter; during the Democratic National Convention, she noted that Hillary Clinton spent her time at some Pacific Rim function where she, as usual, accomplished nothing, rather pointedly not helping her party retain the White House and the Democratic agenda. Her “mission,” apparently, was to promote of a “musical festival” staged and funded by the State Department's “Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs” program “American Music Abroad.” Ghitis found nothing not admirable in any of this, merely noting that Clinton continues to have high approval ratings for the “job” she is doing.
Ghitis doesn’t question why Clinton’s approval rating remains high. “Women’s issues” voters should note that Obama has allowed her free reign to pursue her “gender agenda” rather than insist that she actually do the job she was expected to do, like deal with China or use her “celebrity” and brilliance to forge peace in hot spots of the world. The problem is, of course, that Hillary was ill-suited temperamentally and experientially to be Secretary of State, but this matters not to her fans, when she is breaking “records” flying all over the globe and giving speeches; the primary effect of this is distancing herself from “Obama’s” foreign policy, since she has none of her own. When CNN’s Cathy Crowley tried to make Obama look small during the second debate by alleging that Hillary took “responsibility” for the events in Benghazi, it demonstrated that only Clinton’s reputation increased rather than diminished after such a bloody tragedy.
One should note that Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens had one thing that Clinton lacked and she was clearly resentful of—credibility with various Muslim factions. Stevens was consulting with a Turkish diplomat in Benghazi only a few hours before the attack; it has been speculated that Stevens was coordinating arms transfers from the Saudis and Turkey to Syrian rebels. It has also been suggested that despite the deteriorating security situation, it was felt that a U.S. presence was required in Benghazi in order not to give the impression that the U.S. had “given-up” on Libya’s efforts to become a democracy and not a haven of terrorists. The Libyan February 17th Brigade was supposed to be “policing” the compound, but before the attack, one of them appeared to be “casing” the building, taking photographs. The attackers of the compound did not actually find Stevens or anyone else inside the building, as they had fled into a “safe haven.” After they attackers set fire to building, David Ubben, a security agent, claims to have led Stevens and Sean Smith to a window, through which he escaped; he claims to have expected the other two to have followed him out the same window, but they never appeared. Why Ubben exited first without insuring the safety of the ambassador is only a question he can answer. A CIA “quick reaction force” nearby re-occupied the building but did not find Stevens, apparently because of the smoke, the inhalation of which he died from.
Criticism of the administration’s initial response is somewhat misplaced, since there were no U.S. forces or legitimate Libyan police forces in the area, and there was not enough time to gather military assets and make determinations as to the whereabouts of U.S. personnel and how to precisely target the attackers and not by-standers attracted to the scene. Meanwhile, what was Clinton doing that day? Except for some rather mundane activities, her itinerary states that she met with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon at noon. What they discussed has not been disclosed. Interestingly, anti-Obama fanatic and Clinton "confidant" Ed Klein has recently claimed that Hillary wanted beefed-up security in Benghazi, but Obama denied it; others, however, have pointed out that security for U.S. diplomats is her responsibility, and that if Obama claims that no one told him that there were serious security issues at the Benghazi consulate, then there is at the very least some shaky business going on somewhere.