In one week, the two-year 2012 campaign cycle will come to a close (to the relief of my blood pressure and any American with a television in a swing state). With the recovery from hurricane Sandy in full force from West Virginia to Maine tonight, many pundits are correctly arguing that both candidates may not receive another opportunity to make closing arguments (you know, for all of those well informed, undecided voters).
Nonetheless, the response to one of the worst natural disasters in modern time should provide more than enough of a closing argument to all Americans (not just for our “undecided” friends in Ohio, Virginia and Florida). In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this disaster is providing us with the best possible closing argument.
First and foremost, for those who forget, this is what our Republican candidate, Willard Romney, said on June 13, 2011 during a CNN debate for the Republican nomination. Here’s the quote direct from the transcript [emphasis mine]:
“JOHN KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Mo. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with [disaster], whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say, ‘Do it on a case-by-case basis,’ and some people who say, you know, ‘Maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role.’ How do you deal with something like that?
“ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut—we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot—
“KING: Including disaster relief, though?
“ROMNEY: We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”
Fast forward to a few months after that debate to almost exactly one year ago when on August 21, 2011 the east coast was plumaged by Hurricane Irene causing record breaking flood damage only to be followed by a freak snowstorm on October 30th that dumped 32 inches of snow on the not-yet-barren trees across Massachusetts causing the deaths of six residents in the Commonwealth. Irene left over a half-million homes without power and the snowstorm caused nearly a quarter-million statewide. These outages in many circumstances lasted several days.
For anyone who was unlucky enough to live through both of those events last year in Massachusetts, one thing should stand out in your mind: the pitiful and arguably deadly response by our friends at the utility conglomerates National Grid (operating revenue $14.3 billion), NStar (subsidiary Northeast Utilities, operating budget of about $4.5 billion).
NStar and National Grid’s lack of preparations before and response during and after the storms to potentially deadly downed power lines and their complete inability to restore power to hundreds of thousands of homes in freezing cold temperatures in a reasonable amount of time was so egregious that the Massachusetts Attorney General sought a nearly $10 million fine from NStar and a record breaking $16 million from National Grid. The Attorney General’s press release, said the following of NStar:
“NSTAR’s preparation for these storms was woefully inadequate and much of the power loss suffered by hundreds of thousands of customers could have been avoided,” AG Coakley said. “The company’s slow response to downed wires created a dangerous public safety situation for towns across the Commonwealth.”
In seeking the record breaking fine against National Grid, the Attorney General cited a lack of preparation for the storm, inadequate response to customers, poor communication and because “they did not employ proper software technology to predict storms” and instead relied on a “seat of the pants response.” (Putting this into context, National Grid was forced to pay $2.2 million less than two years prior for almost the exact same reasons. Fair to say they didn’t learn their lesson?)
So let’s do a quick recap:
Mitt Romney wants to privatize disaster response (No, I’m not sensationalizing. He even took the time to double down on his aforementioned debate comments yesterday in the midst of the worst hours of Hurricane Sandy). Presumably this privatization would go to companies such as NStar and National Grid that operate and maintain the power grids in states such as his home of Massachusetts.
In contrast, President Obama’s administration has thus far demonstrated a purely flawless federal response to this unfathomable “perfect storm.” Don’t believe me? One of Mitt Romney’s strongest supporters, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and billionaire pal, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, (who has all but endorsed Romney) continue to deal with the worst of the aftermath of Sandy at this hour. Neither of these outspoken political heavyweights would hesitate one millisecond to pounce on the slightest misstep in the federal government’s response. Not only have they not levied criticism, they have gone out of their way to sing the president’s praises. On top of that, when Governor Christie was asked whether or not his preferred presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, would be coming to New Jersey to tour the damage his typically blunt response was, “I don’t give a damn.”
We may not get a formal closing argument from either candidate, but we do know how President Obama responds in such situations and we also know how Governor Romney would prefer to respond; Willard wants the profit-centric, cold-blooded companies like NStar and National Grid to lead relief efforts while dissolving agencies such as FEMA and preventing oversight by federal and state agencies (as demonstrating by the Massachusetts Attorney General).
As far as I’m concerned, the nation couldn’t ask for a better “closing argument” to be presented to them. The question before voters is clear: do you want disaster relief to resemble the last 36 hours or do you want disaster relief to resemble the completely negligent response of multi-billion dollar corporations like National Grid and NStar in Romney’s home state of Massachusetts?