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An (Im)perfect Storm

Hurrican Sandy

An approaching Hurricane Sandy in City Island, NYC

During the past couple of weeks in the autumn of 2012, over 300,000,000 Americans along with the rest of the global community have lived through a tempest of some very good and some very bad historic events.

First, the very bad.

After wreaking havoc throughout the Caribbean and Bahamas, Hurricane Sandy spun its way northwestward toward New York and New Jersey, leaving millions of my fellow Mid-Atlantic Americans without power, and many without home.

Sandy remains the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, as well as the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history, exceeded only by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Estimates of damage are still coming in at over $50 billion.

Here in my home state of New Jersey, Governor Christie responded immediately, ordering all residents of barrier islands to evacuate, and closed all Atlantic City casinos.  All New Jerseyans quickly got “the hell off the beach”.  President Obama signed an emergency declaration for New Jersey, allowing the state to request federal funding and other assistance for actions taken before Sandy’s landfall.  The remaining devastation is overwhelming.

According to Mike Lupica over at the Daily News, as President Obama and Governor Christie toured the state’s wreckage together, “Obama and Christie’s post-Sandy partnership” became “the defining image of the presidential campaign”.

Inflicting political insult on top of partisan injury upon Mitt Romney, the former GOP vice-presidential possibility Christie heaped praise upon praise on President Obama for suspending his campaign and coming to the Garden State to tour the damage from Hurricane Sandy last week armed with a sack of FEMA money.  Christie then turned down a request by Mitt Romney to appear with him at a rally on Sunday night in Pennsylvania.  Imagine a governor placing the welfare of his constituents above politics!    At least to the Romney campaign, Christie had become the true Jersey Devil.

Even more significant than the effects on lives that Sandy has left with us is the result of the November 6 election.   I say this because of the longer term implications for our nation and the world as a whole.  In the midst of the storm you might recall that we had a thing called a quadrennial presidential election.

Did I mention that President Obama has won a second term?

Despite rampant abuses of the electoral system through voter suppression tactics that cut early voting and voter I.D. laws that amounted to a Jim Crow poll tax, and lines of voters waiting for eight hours in order to exercise their Constitutional right to elect a democratic president, we the people have now spoken.

At least for the next four years, we’re not going to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  We don’t want a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade.   We like Medicare.  We don’t want a replacement that will be put on a meager life support system through vouchers.

On Tuesday, and in the weeks preceding it through early voting, we have decided by ballot that we don’t want a 20 percent tax cut to the wealthiest Americans who don’t need it through math that simply does not work.  Women don’t want to be required by law to get the boss’s approval to get contraceptive coverage through their insurance plan.   We don’t want to redefine rape, separating “legitimate” from “illegitimate” under a false but equally egregious dichotomy of assault.

We don’t want to devolve education to the states as a block grant program.  We don’t want to increase military spending for a Defense Department that does not want it.   We don’t want to be forced to borrow the cost of college tuition from our parents who don’t have the money.  Our newest residents don’t want to self-deport and we don’t want to let Detroit go bankrupt.   We like the 2009 stimulus package and we understand that thanks to other fiscal policies put in place over the last 4 years as well, we have narrowly avoided a second depression.

Perhaps most decisively, we don’t want a flip-flopping homophobic president who can’t seem to remember instigating a mob of buddies to tackle a scared gay boy, holding him down and cutting his hair.   And by extension, we don’t want a foreign policy designed by a bunch of Bush neocons who lied us into an unnecessary Iraq War, far costlier in terms of lives than even the money.

What we do want is an opportunity.   The nation has an opportunity to build on President Obama’s first term, imperfect as it was.

Yes, his first term was flawed in many respects.  The president did not fight hard enough more comprehensive health care reform like single-payer.   He caved in on allowing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.   He should have fought harder to close Guantanamo despite his recently renewed pledge to do so.  Etc.

But President Obama has done many things right.   I’m a progressive.  But I’m a pragmatic one.  And despite the fact that I like the idea of nationalizing a range of services like single-payer health insurance, free higher education, full employment, and a WPA style rebuilding of our infrastructure, I realize that Act II of a (likely moderate)  Obama Presidency is our best hope for a change in that direction.

The economy seems to be bending the downward curve upward.  In the latest of positive economic news, America’s exports flourished in September amid strong demand from overseas. Exports rose a seasonally adjusted 3.1 percent from August to $187 billion and were 3.5 percent above their September 2011 level.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “Nations across the globe snapped up U.S. goods, including China, Germany and South Africa.”    We certainly don’t need to initiate a “trade war”.

Employers added 171,000 jobs in October, better than the Street expected and the unemployment rate finally broke through the 8 percent floor in September to 7.8 percent before ticking up to 7.9 percent last month.   According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property, increased at an annual rate of 2.0 percent in the third quarter of 2012.

Abroad, Iran’s economy has been hobbled by sanctions put in place to enforce a ban on nuclear weapons development, Bin Laden is dead and the Iraq War has ended.  Israel remains our best ally.

Yes, that hopey-changey thing is working quite well, thanks.  We are better off than we were four years ago.

The social implications of Tuesday’s election are equally significant.  Because a higher number of minority and younger voters came out to the polls, along with middle and lower income wage earners, some observers are saying that a populist revolution has begun to take shape.  Certainly, Obama’s campaign staff that included David Axelrod, Stephanie Cutter, and David Plouffe and other fellow campaigners, deserves enormous credit for strategically getting out the vote.  Two years later, an electoral shellacking has been returned in kind.

The 2012 election has produced the largest class of new women in Congress since the last “year of the woman” in 1992, bringing the total almost 100—the highest ever.  But why must we have “a” year of the woman.  Every year should be.

In the Senate, the Democrats picked up two seats and in the House they gained 3.  Not filibuster-proof, but more representative nonetheless.

So now the hard work of governing begins anew, albeit with some of that wind from Sandy at our backs and a clear mandate for positive change.

The so-called fiscal cliff must be addressed.  Quite simply the tax cuts for households above an annual $250,000 income should receive a tax hike above that threshold by letting.  If we are serious about cutting the deficit, along with an increase in revenues, we must now look at the possibility of making some cuts in spending, but not with the blunt instrument that the sequester represents.  We can afford cuts in the largest Defense budget in the world.  We can’t, however, afford cuts in education or further cuts to those already made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

This campaign season and the final days of the electoral process has exposed many troubling cracks in our democracy and society in general.  The stark contrasts in our caste system of economics and demographics became even more exposed under the harsh light of day.  Soon-to-become-majority minorities voted for President Obama.  Those who long for a Norman Rockwell Christmas with an aproned Donna Reed serving a platter of turkey to a bunch of red blooded males who, earlier that morning, had shot that bird, voted for Mitt Romney.  In this autumn season, they surely give new meaning to “fall back” when it comes to daylight savings time.  The voters preferred “spring ahead.”

We were again reminded that the electoral college effectively creates an undemocratic buffer between the popular vote and those who actually get to preside from the Oval Office.  And governors across the country took steps to cut early voting, traditionally done by those who cannot get to the polls on election day, creating arduously long lines.  Despite many moving scenes of American citizens waiting in line for hours, this imperfect democratic process is in sore need of fixing.

With all that said, a decisive victory has been achieved. We the people have spoken.  President Obama, good luck in your second term.  May the destructive winds of October remove the obstacles to a more progressive November and second term for our democracy with all its imperfect progress.

Photo by jaydensonbx licensed under Creative Commons




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Thomas P. Davis

Thomas P. Davis

I'm a freelance writer based in New Jersey. I've been writing about public issues for 10 years.