The administration could have clinched a second term by being on the front lines of two fronts.
It rained and rained. The rain continues. I was out in the middle of the night with my pals checking the damage, seeing what we could do. It was not terrible, no power outage or anything. We can hope today and tonight will be milder, at least not worse. Monday’s wind was astonishing. It was probably a mere breeze, however, compared to the force that hit the coast a few hundred miles to the north. Atlantic City is under water, lower Manhattan and the Rockaways and points along the Brooklyn coast line, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, were evacuated. The storm brought snow to western and West Virginia, probably other points as well. The stock exchanges are closed — first time since a great blizzard in 1888 — as are subways and tunnels, schools.
The storm is the worst single natural disaster in American history: keep in mind, though, that certain disasters that stretched over longer periods, like the droughts that hit the Great Plains in the 1930s, were at least as harmful in their consequences as this one, which a far richer society can recover from. Which certainly tells us something about how rich and resourceful we as a people are: coastal areas in Maryland and New Jersey damaged, in many places catastrophically, New York City battered, eight million people without electric power, 50 billion in property damage, another 20 billion in lost business activity, scores killed by the time we count all the casualties. Washington, D.C. and quite a few other places within the storm’s range were lucky. The resilience and courage of people in the worst-hit places, like New York, humbles us who faced mere wind and rain.
A great feat of heroism occurred at Tisch Hospital on Second Ave. in the 20s when the power failed and, in a raging storm, the staff rallied to carry babies and patients to other places, reportedly without losing a single one even though some were on various devices, IV’s, respirators, powered by batteries. The firemen and cops, bravest and finest, performed admirably, saved lives, as usual —as usual, yes, this is the American way.
I hate to make partisan use of it but the facts impose themselves: the strong steady hand of policemen, firemen, hospital staffs, and many others during the great storm of 2012 represents the opposite of the administration’s performance when our people were under enemy fire at Benghazi. Not the least interesting failure here was that Barack Obama blew a chance to win the election in a landslide on 9/11/12 by immediately launching air strikes in Benghazi and sending in reinforcements. Even if they arrived too late to save the ambassador and the security detail, outnumbered as they were like Crockett and Travers and the others at the Alamo, the gesture would have clinched the campaign for him. And it is by no means certain late would have been too late, as well-informed reporters have shown that jets could have scrambled from Italian bases and got there within an hour while troops arrived from elsewhere, which would have been sufficient since the consulate held for several hours.
And even after that appalling failure, the administration could have saved its chances for a second term by being on the front line of the great storm. Instead of hunkering down and mouthing platitudes about the severity of the weather and the need to be careful, the president himself and as many of his men as possible should have been visible, present, up and down the East Coast. They should have started in the neighborhoods of Washington and made their way up the coast to Manhattan, where they should have embedded with units of the NYCPS and NYCFD and NY National Guard all through the night, stayed up there on Tuesday to survey the wreckage — and the admirable civil defense that limited the wreckage — alongside Govs. Christie and Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, then toured other areas hit by the storm and stayed on this task well into the week.
I am not sure why, but for some reason in the middle of the night when for the fourth or fifth time I found myself bailing water in the neighborhood — it was like getting drops out, but we kept telling ourselves that what the hell, we were keeping the level slightly down in basements and on ground floors and limiting the damage where we could, tying canvas covers on cars and that sort of thing. It was nothing really, did little good materially, but it helped a few people morally, I mean it boosted their morale.
Which is half the battle in these situations. For some reason I found I was listening, in my head, to a 19th century hymn that had not come to mind for I scarcely know how long and that probably had been picked up during one of my recurrent ecumenical phases when I seek whatever we kid ourselves is worth seeking in other people’s beliefs and faiths. It is not an especially good hymn, the words are pompous and without subtlety, and the tune as I recall it represents a kind of cut-rate martial style. But in the way that second rate work sometimes achieves, it does express a profoundly American view of things and I suppose that is why this hymn used to be sung in public schools back in the days when prayer was permitted in public schools. I am not even sure I remember it correctly, but the words that were quietly recurring as I contemplated the overwhelming smallness of humankind compared to the forces of nature were these: Once in the lifetime of each man and nation,/There comes a moment to choose sides.
Choosing sides is not the issue in a case like Sandy storm. Nature as such is not a moral issue. But how you react to it is. It is on an entirely different plane from choosing sides in a war, except in one respect — you have to decide for yourself if you are going to choose to help or choose to give in, choose to try or choose to pretend you do not see. We are against Islamic terror, we are not against nature. We are for our people when they are attacked by Islamic terrorists and we are for our neighbors when their basement floods. Different on every level beginning with the moral one, the situations nevertheless call for identical responses in the sense that choosing sides is a personal commitment. With or without aforethought, premeditation, or what not, you are either the kind of person who chooses to help when you are in a position to do so, or you are the kind of person who says not my problem.
Observe that Gov. Christie, when asked, could do no other than to thank Pres. Obama for responding quickly to the disaster’s consequences in New Jersey. What else was either man to do? Christie was right to be grateful that the president did not hedge or hesitate in promising support for rebuilding destroyed homes and infrastructure with the means appropriated for such purposes under federal legislation. Obama would have been crazy to start nickeling and diming over appropriations that exist for this purpose. These were, as they say in baseball, no-brainers.
The brainer, though it should have been a no-brainer if the president’s political operatives really have the brains imputed to them, was how to lead. Christie was, quite rightly, thanking the president for governing correctly. Leadership is when you rise to a challenge, get out front, rhetorically and symbolically.
The hymn continues, as best I recall, with a line about choosing between good and evil. I am always dubious of such stark admonitions, and I would be appalled if someone claimed taking a pail to your neighbor’s basement at three in the morning has anything to do with good and evil. Again without making any comparisons between entirely different situations, I would say the issue of sending reinforcements to Benghazi was not ipso facto a matter of good and evil. It was a gross mistake, perhaps spilling into dereliction of duty, consistent with a four-year record of not understanding the war in which we are engaged.
If, as the evidence as collected by a number of commentators strongly suggests, the Obama White House knew the Benghazi attack was premeditated and it knew, furthermore, that we had assets to counter it, and yet it did not counter it, and proceeded to lie to the American people about it, I would still say this is high politics played low, not good-and-evil — an egregious example of the no-brains in the Obama administration, but still a mistake more than a moral failure. They thought they could get away with such a stupid explanation and thereby save their erroneous policy of appeasement, a policy which is leading to defeat in the wars Obama promised to “end” and to new wars elsewhere, notably in Mali.
However, there comes a point when such deep strategic cretinism can lead to action or nonaction that can only be described in moral terms. If the Obama high command was as well-informed about Benghazi as a number of commentators claim, all considerations of policy continuity should have gone out the window. They could revert later to appeasement, stalling, retreat, call it what you will. Secretary of State Clinton, for instance, this very week is passing through North Africa in an effort to steady the ship of U.S. foreign policy by assuring regional leaders that we will support the eradication of the terrorist state entrenched in northern Mali at least in part due to the very policies Mrs. Clinton and her boss have been promoting for the past four years.
They could, they can: but on the ground in Benghazi on September 11, U.S. foreign policy was not the issue, American lives were. This indeed was “a moment to choose sides.” In the battle between good and evil, the hymn says: in this moment, the administration was not being asked to choose between good and evil on the global scale. If they do not want to see evil where it is in the global picture, okay, that is why we have elections periodically. This was a case of evil in a small place, involving a desperate fight between good men and evil savages. They, the administration, did not choose or, God help us all, they chose the wrong side.
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