Coming at the end of a seemingly never-ending and bitterly contentious election season where it felt like the nation couldn’t get any more divided, Hurricane Sandy did something no one thought was possible.
It’s tragic that we needed a “Frankenstorm” of epic proportions in order to get politicians from different parties to cooperate for the good of the American people. It’s tragic that 97 people had to die in the United States (and an additional 65 in the Caribbean) to get a respite, however brief, from the rhetoric. Not a complete respite, alas — there were two or three Linda McMahon ads aired during each commercial break from the storm coverage on WTNH.)
After the spectacle of watching neophyte congressmen take us to the brink of default on our sovereign debt and then fail to work together sensibly on jobs, the budget, debt reduction — after all the anti-government Tea Party rhetoric — Sandy’s devastation has been a reminder that government does work. It works when there are competent people in positions of responsibility, and the politicians we elect behave like grownups and collaborate.
Look at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Just last week, at a rally in Virginia, Christie attacked President Barack Obama’s leadership. “He’s like a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can’t find it,” Christie said.
What a difference a week and a Frankenstorm make.
Here’s Christie on Fox and Friends: “I spoke to the president three times yesterday. He called me for the last time at midnight last night asking what he could do. I said, ‘If you could expedite designating New Jersey as a major disaster area that that would help us to get federal money and resources in here as quickly as possible to help clean up the damage here.’ . . . He said he would get it done. At 2 a.m., I got a call from FEMA to answer a couple of final questions and then he signed the declaration this morning. So I have to give the president great credit . . . He has been very attentive, and anything that I’ve asked for, he’s gotten to me. So, I thank the president publicly for that. He has done — as far as I’m concerned — a great job for New Jersey.”
And there you have it, folks. When your favorite childhood haunts have just been blown into the ocean, do you want to elect a guy who believes in government or the guy who said he was going to get rid of FEMA?
New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who remained neutral in 2008, made a surprise 11th hour endorsement of Obama based on his leadership on climate change. “One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”
Connecticut’s David Walker, head of the Comeback America Initiative, tweeted his disapproval of the Bloomberg endorsement: “I care about the environment too but for Bloomberg to base his endorsement on it is strange. How about the economy, jobs and fiscal resp.?”
Walker’s comment typifies the short-term tunnel vision I witnessed when I worked on Wall Street. Yes, I know Walker will say he’s thinking long term because he’s concerned about the deficit, but that’s the tunnel vision. Business resistance to climate reform initiatives has always been about cost. In certain parts of the Republican Party, the desire not to spend money became so great that it generated a psychosis: climate change denial.
This week, former Delaware Governor and Congressman Mike Castle called his party out on this: “It may be that people are for example opposed — people being conservative Republicans — to cap-and-trade because of the cost aspects of it. It’s not just the science of it, but the science is an excuse.”
Don’t say we weren’t warned about the potential devastation to Staten Island and Lower Manhattan. We were. But the potential remediation costs money. No one wants to spend money, particularly when we’re focused on lowering the deficit. Climate change wasn’t even raised in the Presidential debates, despite it showing a clear difference between the parties.
But we can’t afford to ignore it any longer. As Ben Strauss, director of the sea level rise program at the research group Climate Central in Princeton, N.J. pointed out: “Three of the top 10 highest floods at the Battery since 1900 happened in the last two and a half years. If that’s not a wake-up call to take this seriously, I don’t know what is.”
There’s a British expression “Penny wise, Pound foolish.” It’s one of which I’m often reminded these days. Solving our nation’s fiscal problems requires a holistic approach. The estimate of economic losses from Sandy are now up to $50 billion, and some economists warn that they could shave 0.5 percent off the nation’s growth this quarter. With interest rates at historically low levels, now is the time to face reality and act on it, rather than bury our heads in the sand and deny it for short-term savings and profits.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.