As "Frankenstorm" churns up the East Coast, it brings into relief the central argument of the 2012 campaign. Beneath all the minor squabbles and distractions, Obama vs. Romney is a contest between two starkly different views about the proper role of government. It’s Lincoln’s concept that informs the president’s approach: "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves,” the 16th president famously said. Romney, meanwhile, has run as the faithful representative of the anti-government strain that, as Frank Rich recently wrote, has infected American politics from the git-go.
One of Romney's most pointed articulations of the government-hating strain came in a primary debate last June, when he was asked about a more localized version of what millions are facing today—the devastation in Joplin, Missouri. Should the states deal with such things rather than the federal government? “Absolutely,” Romney answered, adding that “if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Moderator John King gave him a chance to clarify—did he really mean disaster relief? “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids,” Romney replied. That jibes perfectly with the views of Congressional right-wingers, like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, who’ve argued that disaster funding should never be granted until equivalent cuts are made in the federal budget—i.e., hold the “community of people” who need help hostage until other parts of the safety net can be sliced away. The Ryan budget, which Romney simply adores, would “severely impair” FEMA’s ability to deal with situations like this week’s, as Think Progress documented today.
Romney’s “fend for yourself, people” attitude might not turn off a significant number of voters at this late date—even if Democrats find a way to raise the issue without sounding too crass between now and next Tuesday. But the tragedy that’s unfolding today and tomorrow, and surely for many more days to come, may very well remind at least some Americans of what they do want government to do, and be—and how deeply Romney's philosophy clashes with what Lincoln called, in another famous phrase, “the better angels of our nature.”
So They Say
“Romney's ready to make the deep rollbacks—in healthcare, education, social services, reproductive rights—that will guarantee poverty, unemployment, overpopulation, disease, rioting: all crucial elements in creating a nightmare zombie wasteland. But it's his commitment to ungoverned corporate privilege that will nose-dive this economy into true insolvency and chaos—the kind of chaos you can't buy back. ... Mitt's ready. He's not afraid to face a ravening, grasping horde of sub-humans, because that's how he sees poor people already."
—Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, endorsing Mitt Romney for leader of the impending zombie apocalypse
Daily Meme: Don't Need a Weatherman?
- Campaign coverage halted to a slow-jam pace today thanks to the Frankenstorm. So, like all people stuck in a conversation with no logical path forward, journos and pundits have resorted to talking about the weather.
- Or, in other words, "not even hurricanes can stop dumb punditry."
- In truth, no one knows what effect Hurricane Sandy could have on the election—if any—so wild and improbable theories abound. Like The New York Times imagining a scenario where Mitt Romney ends up president, with Joe Biden as veep.
- Or the right-wing conspiracy theories that the storm will push Friday's jobs report to after the polls close, an obvious attempt to cover up unsavory labor statistics.
- Several polling operations are shutting down for now, which means the ramifications of the freak weather event could be felt by political junkies for days, with a week bereft of the perfect storm of polling press releases.
- One way in which the storm could have a measurably significant impact? Early voting.
- And voting on Election Day too, if the aftermath is as bad as the weather reports are hinting.
- We may have to contend with powerless voting booths instead of hanging chads in this very close election.
- As Lexington at The Economist points out, "To be brutal, a certain amount of bad weather on election day helps conservatives in every democracy.”
- But Obama, who canceled all his campaign events today and tomorrow, hit the best tone on how to perceive the hurricane in a political context, if you must. "I'm not worried at this point about the impact on the election, I'm worried about the impact on families, and I'm worried about the impact on our first responders; I'm worried about the impact on our economy."
What We're Writing
- Samuel Popkin praises Nate Silver’s new book chronicling the uncertainty of predicting outcomes.
- Monica Potts reports on Colorado’s electoral mess.
What We're Reading
- Conor Friedersdorf explains how marijuana reformers became mainstream.
- A blast of comedy on a dark day: Romney paints Ryan as a model of bipartisanship.
- Frank Rich foretells an upsurge in Republican rage if Obama wins.
- George Saunders, a.k.a. "Ayn Rand's former lover," endorses Barack Obama.
- Nate Cohn on why turnout is so crucial this election cycle.
- Our increasingly entrenched and fractious politics have made the dating scene a drag.
- Big donors are spending the last week before the election spending big dough in House races.
- In Colorado, dark money groups are breaking bad.
Poll of the Day
Just how far are we from the “post-racial” America that Obama’s election was supposed to portend? Disturbingly far. An Associated Press survey finds that racial prejudice hasincreased since 2008. Fifty-one percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. Meanwhile, in a survey done last year, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites had anti-Hispanic attitudes.
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.