It took a literal tempest in the last days of the presidential election season to fully illuminate just how irrelevant the process of selecting an American chief executive may have become. Many pundits, reviewing the two parties' summer
conventions, remarked upon the odd failure of Republican Mitt Romney to make mention in his acceptance address of the men and women of our armed services who are still at risk in the caldrons of Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was equally bizarre that neither Romney nor Obama had much to say during the whole of their campaigns about the insidious and ongoing onslaught of climate change. Nor was the subject considered worth talking about, by candidates or by moderators, at any of three forums devoted to exploring the views of the great parties' chosen exemplars.
All the same and ready or not, the big storm came — trick or treat. Much has been made of the day-after tour of the ruins of New Jersey in which Chris Christie, that state's governor and presumed to be a Republican warhorse, accompanied President Obama and not only expressed his sincere gratitude to the president for the federal government's attention but bristled when pesky Fox News commentators tried to remind him of his political duty to candidate Romney. "I'm not the least bit interested," Christie said. After cataloging the destruction suffered by New Jersey, he added, "If you don't understand that I don't give a damn about presidential politics, you don't know me."
That's our nomination for the one moment which put the election and the whole sad recent trend of negative partisan politics into proper perspective. And it reminded those of us who had forgotten it just what government is all about in its finer moments.
Other teachable moments: Before a late comeback of sorts, Romney had virtually been counted out on the basis of an onlooker's cellphone recording of the candidate at a posh fund-raiser trying to distance himself from the "47 percent" of his fellow Americans to whom he imputed a shiftlessness and a sense of being "victims." That the Republican nominee climbed back in the ring and made a fight of it again was due almost entirely to his resourceful showing at the first presidential debate, where he made an effort to reclaim a place in the American center and, in the process, displayed some bona fide executive energy. Meanwhile, whatever fire may have been in the belly of an over-confident president seemed to have been momentarily doused.
The lesson in both those situations, as in that of Hurricane Sandy, was the same. The people deserve to be taken seriously, and they expect whoever governs them to be able to give them his full and focused attention. That it finally took the catastrophe of a hurricane to take us, at least temporarily, out of the teapot realm and to put the chattering class and spin artists to shame was a reminder of the old saw: It's an ill wind that blows nobody some good.