Author: Ella Fornari
Before Sandy hit the Northeast last week, both political parties presumed that the way the Obama administration would handle the after-effects of the storm could play an instrumental factor in deciding the election. Conservatives like Sean Hannity speculated that Sandy would be “Obama’s Katrina”, while liberals believed that if the Obama administration brought speedy storm recovery, his chances for re-election would be greatly improved. Obviously these viewpoints did not determine last week’s results; Obama won the election, not Hurricane Sandy. That being said, there are certainly greater political implications that arose from Sandy that reach beyond those directly affected by its destruction.
A defining platform of the far right is a return to small government. Mitt Romney wanted disaster relief to exist primarily as a state responsibility. If a storm like Sandy had hit during a now extremely hypothetical Romney presidency, resources from Federal Emergency Management Agency would have been cut and therefore short-term recovery most likely stinted.
Parallels can surely be drawn in the aftermath of Sandy to Katrina in 2004. The damage of Katrina was perpetuated and recovery was so drawn out because under the Bush administration, funding to FEMA was cut and measures for productivity within FEMA were less regulated. Although it’s difficult to compare Sandy’s destruction to Katrina’s, the role of FEMA in providing recovery does create an interesting comparison regarding federal action for disaster relief.
Republicans who wished Obama’s loss in the election due to a terrible storm recovery effort clearly do not see the fallacy in their belief that government task forces should be decreased. Along with not seeing the error in minimizing all forms of government, even emergency response, they are perpetuating the liberal stereotype that the far right is heartless and cold. Expressing ill hopes so that Obama would lose the race, if anything might have swayed undecided voters (or even those already decided) away from voting for Romney.
The swift and dynamic recovery that the Obama administration provided in the wake of Sandy has also been linked to the location where the storm hit. It is not fair, however, to claim that Sandy’s recovery was successful because New York City and its surrounding area have priority over New Orleans. Undeniably, the time between Katrina hitting the Gulf and government forces intervening with sources for recovery (albeit limited sources) was much greater than with Sandy. The time discrepancy between the storms hitting and recovery, specifically FEMA response, is indicative of the destruction met. We can contemplate that New York City was given preference, but there are so many other factors at play, and the contexts of the administrations so different that this is not a fair presumption.
Despite the location of Sandy’s destruction, its proximity to voting day if anything, made its recovery such a priority for the Obama administration. If the storm had hit anywhere else in the country, the Obama administration would most likely have treated recovery the same because all eyes were on them before the election
Even though the election played a factor in the immediacy and extent of recovery, it is also important to note last year’s Irene, which also brought destruction to New York City. Preparations for Irene were great, even though it was a smaller storm than Sandy. Because of this, perhaps taking large preparative measures is also characteristic of New York City. It is also worth noting that both Irene and Sandy, whose preparations and recoveries were successful, both occurred during the Obama administration, so they may be more generally indicative of the Obama administration’s policies and reactions to disaster relief.
Hopefully, the success of Sandy’s recovery and FEMA under the Obama administration will sway believers of Ronald Reagan’s words that “the most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Ella Fornari is an undeclared first-year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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