By Emily Theroux
Ssshh! A moment of silence, please. Turn down that racket from incessant campaign ads and warring TV pundits (if you didn’t already lose your cable service to a gargantuan maple tree toppled by Hurricane Sandy, as I did Monday afternoon).
You wouldn’t want to miss the sound of one hand clapping, a paradox that developed when poor Mittens had no one to play partisan patty-cake with. His good buddy from New Jersey abandoned the Tea Party games that MittWit had talked him into playing. The frivolity got too preposterous and infantile for Mitt’s BFF to stomach, so he ran off to join the grown-ups who had finally reached across the aisle to begin solving the country’s problems.
In the eerie hush of an early Halloween twilight — without lights, heat, and background noise in the millions of households without power — you could almost hear Mitt Romney fuming, all the way from Ohio, over New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s treachery.
Obama & Christie emerge as politics’ strangest ‘power couple’
The news teemed with post-disaster anecdotes about “Sandy’s political odd couple,” Christie and his unlikely ally President Barack Obama, who worked in tandem to coordinate the relief effort and flew together in Marine One to tour parts of New Jersey devastated when the hurricane made landfall there. And just look who’s green with “envy” now, absorbing the spectacle of political polar opposites patting each other on the back, a freaking mutual admiration society!
“Seeing him with Chris Christie is tearing me apart,” satirist Andy Borowitz imagined a steamed Mittster venting. (The nerve of Mitt’s own convention keynote speaker, defecting to the enemy camp just one week before Election Day to call a truce in electoral hostilities over a freaking windstorm!)
Storm of the century sidelines Mitt from headlines
“Frankenstorm” is over, leaving a grim tally of casualties and destruction in its wake: 94 reported dead thus far, millions without power, countless families homeless, 9 out of 23 subway lines still closed in New York City, and as much as $50 billion in property damage, extra living expenses, and lost business. The president admirably rose to the challenge to oversee disaster relief endeavors by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Christie, doing likewise, even signed an executive order “rescheduling Halloween” because the streets in his state weren’t yet safe for trick-or-treaters.
Marooned in my silent living room sans Internet access, I could still easily discern from my cell phone connection that Mitt Romney didn’t have a lot to say about how he would handle disaster relief if he were in the president’s coveted shoes.
Granted, Mitt’s got several tough acts to follow. Even though Obama was bashed for reacting “prematurely” to the hurricane threat by stunningly inept Katrina-era FEMA head Michael Brown (of “Heckuva Job, Brownie” fame), the president smoothly coordinated a truly bipartisan storm response with fellow executives like Christie, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
The GOP contender, as New Yorker columnist John Cassidy opined, “has a FEMA problem and a Chris Christie problem.” The “unemployed” multimillionaire challenger finds himself cast in the unenviable position of odd man out in a venue tailor-made for incumbents. Obama shines by simply doing his job (and gleans a 77 percent approval rating among likely voters on his overall response to the storm). Romney, on the other hand, has no official tasks to perform and doesn’t feign empathy very well. He’s limited to phony photo ops that reveal him to be the cynical, calculating, and purely political android that he really is.
In the aftermath of the superstorm that flooded city streets, swamped the New York City subway system, and flattened homes, businesses, amusement parks, and boardwalks along the Jersey Shore, the sidelined Romney campaign staged a bogus “storm relief event” offering faux “donations” of granola bars, diapers, and canned goods purchased by staffers from an Ohio Walmart for $5,000. People who showed up for what was originally billed as a “victory rally” were encouraged to pick up Walmart merchandise and hand it to Romney in front of the cameras. When skeptical reporters began questioning him about whether he would ax FEMA, as he had suggested during a 2011 primary debate, Mitt clammed up and ignored them as if they were a bothersome swarm of gnats.
Like Tea Party whack job Sharron Angle, who ran for Harry Reid’s Nevada Senate seat in 2010, Mitt traded his mirthless, chiseled mug for a Halloween mask just days before the 2012 election, dodging questions he didn’t want to answer by pretending the people asking them were as ephemeral as “Invisible Obama.”
As Massachusetts governor, Mitt vetoed flood prevention bill
After watching Barack Obama “palling around” for days with Christie, Romney was finally goaded by his campaign staff to respond to the anti-FEMA rap that his own past positions had pinned on him. The craftily constructed switcheroo issued by the Romney campaign late Halloween night read as follows:
“I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters.”
While insisting that Romney doesn’t intend to eliminate or defund FEMA outright, this “Mitticism” relegates the federal agency to “play(ing) a key role” in working with states and localities. Like every other vague policy proposal that the GOP’s Obfuscator-in-Chief has released to date, this statement is as flimsy and mutable as Mitt Romney’s word. He could change it tomorrow, next month, or next year.
If he wins next week’s election, what would Romney really do? His record as governor of of Massachusetts offers an ominous prologue. In 2004, after Peabody’s downtown had been repeatedly flooded by heavy spring rains, Romney vetoed a $5.7 million flood control bill. His longtime spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, claimed that Romney had asked Peabody officials for more information but “none was forthcoming” — a charge that local residents vehemently disputed.
Two years later, the area flooded again. “Massachusetts is sitting on millions in unspent emergency funds from Hurricane Katrina and more than $1 billion in cash reserves, yet Romney has failed to even respond to the Lowell delegation’s requests to discuss additional aid for victims,” the “conservative-leaning” Lowell Sun commented.
“When you’re dealing with a candidate as sketchy and shifty as Romney, his brief record as an elected leader is perhaps the most telling guide you have,” wrote Paul Constant in Seattle’s Slog blog. “Romney has demonstrated an inability to prepare for the future, and then an inability to face the consequences of his actions when the future arrives.”
Privatized disaster relief would put profits before victims
The day after Hurricane Sandy decimated the East Coast, The New York Times published an editorial titled, “A Big Storm Requires Big Government.” Without FEMA’s “war room,” the National Response Coordination Center, the Times argued, relief efforts for a multistate emergency would be virtually impossible to coordinate. When Romney expressed his position du jour at the September 2011 New Hampshire GOP primary debate, he went beyond saying that disaster management should be “returned to the states. … If you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”
Romney the “vulture capitalist” has given us no reason to doubt that he really does believe privatization of many government functions would be optimal. Privatizing disaster relief, however, would be, well — “disastrous.” If Romney wins the election, private disaster response companies (including one headed by Dubya’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush) are waiting in the wings to profit from disaster victims’ misery. Stephen D. Foster Jr. of the blog Addicting Info calls this playbook “a recipe for fraud,” as for-profit response companies could hold both disaster areas and individual victims hostage until their asking price is met. Foster cites a frightening recent example:
“Remember the home in Tennessee a couple years ago that was allowed to burn down by the local for-profit firehouse because the residents failed to pay the fee? Well, you can bet that same scenario will play out across the country and on a more sickening scale.”
Christie says he doesn’t ‘give a damn’ about Election Day
Pundits have speculated about whether Christie is simply sucking up to Obama because he won’t be able to run for president as the GOP candidate in 2016 if Romney wins in 2012. Democrats, however, aren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so most are taking Christie at his word.
That word, as usual, is devastatingly blunt when you’re on the receiving end of it, as Fox flunky Steve Doocy found out after wondering aloud when Romney “was going to get some of the same benefits from the hurricane with a photo op in disaster-stricken New Jersey towns,” in the words of the blog Raw Story’s David Edwards. “[W]e hear that perhaps Mr. Romney may do some storm-related events. Is there any possibility that Gov. Romney may go to New Jersey to tour some of the damage with you?”
Christie minced no words in his 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 [sic] care less about any of that stuff. … 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.”