October Surprise?

**Okay, it should go without saying that obviously my primary concern as Hurricane Sandy snakes up the East Coast is for the millions of people potentially impacted by the devastation. I have family and the majority of my friends directly in that path, so politics isn’t really what I’m most worried about here. Just as in the mention of Katrina; I still think and pray for the victims of that horrific storm and the mismanagement of its aftermath. But since the internet is full of stupid people, I felt like I had to make that perfectly clear. So take a deep breath, just because this is a political analysis doesn’t mean I don’t care about the human cost.**

Politically speaking, however, Hurricane Sandy could well by the “often mythic” October Surprise the news media seems so breathlessly to be awaiting. Less than two weeks out from an election that by all accounts seems to be extremely tight and growing tighter, any major national or international event could potentially tip the scale in one direction or the other. I can’t help but think back to the political fallout as the details of FEMA’s incompetent management of rescue, law enforcement, and recovery leaked out, compounded with the infamous “Heckuva job, Brownie” comment by then-President George W. Bush. Bush’s approval rating dropped to the lowest levels of his presidency and never really recovered. His image as a ‘get er done executive running a competent administration (to anyone who hadn’t been paying a scintilla of attention to the Iraq débâcle — but that’s another topic) was forever shattered and may well have contributed to the ease with which Barack Obama cruised to victory over Sen. John McCain in 2008.

Now, less than two weeks from the presidential election, it’s worth asking two questions. One, what if Katrina had happened in August 2004 rather than 2005? Locked in a tight presidential race against Sen. John Kerry (which — it’s worth reminding folks — was a lot closer than people remember, Bush taking 50.7%-48.3% of the popular vote, and had Kerry won Ohio, which Bush carried by fewer than 120,000 votes, he wins the election), the incumbent spectacularly botches the biggest national disaster in our nation’s history, maybe tarnishing the president’s image enough to turn the Gulf Coast state of Florida? Thus awarding the presidency to the challenger? It’s certainly not farfetched, even though Florida itself was relatively unscathed. 

Now to the point: what if — gods forbid — Sandy turns out to be as devastating as Katrina, landing nine-ten days from Election Day. Chaos ensues, with millions displaced, millions more without power, billions of dollars in potential damage, and this time two swing states — Virginia and North Carolina — directly impacted. It’s hard to predict what that would even look like politically, as it would be completely unprecedented. Would a clear, decisive, organized and effective response from the Obama Administration — their hallmark —make his reelection inevitable? Would a similar verbal response from Romney with shots of him and his sons helping with rescue efforts keep Romney on the president’s level? It seems a bumbling response from Team Obama would almost certainly sink their proverbial battleship, but what about an adequate response from Obama and a mistake of the McCain-suspending-his-campaign variety from Romney? The possibilities are endless and the chaos would be unthinkable. It would simply be unprecedented.

In all hopes, Sandy will miss completely and we can get back to discussing matters of crucial national importance like Big Bird and bayonets.

~ by Benji on October 26, 2012.

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