Now that Election 2012 is over and Americans are no longer threatened by legitimate rape, can we talk about some serious issues?
That's not to say the election coverage didn't focus on serious issues—rape is indeed very serious (although never legitimate), as is the economy, which also received a mention or two.
But one subject never came up in the campaign, not from either side, not from any of the four debate moderators (who choose the questions they want candidates to answer). Until, that is, it forced its way on to the attention of the media and the electorate with 90 mph winds and a record-breaking storm surge.
I'm talking about climate change, which inserted itself into the political discourse by way of Sandy, one of the worst—if not the worst—storm the Atlantic seaboard has ever seen.
Unfortunately, except for a few mentions‚ notably from Mayor Bloomberg when he endorsed Barack Obama, climate change was relegated, as is everything during the final days of a campaign, to a simple algorithm of political expediency: Did Sandy help/hurt Obama/Romney? Pundits from all sides of the political spectrum seemingly ignored the fact that it was the residents in the path of the storm who were hurt by Sandy's waves and winds.
Let me just insert: I'm positive the storm wasn't the cause for President Obama's rise in the polls. I was watching very closely, and his poll numbers started rising around the time of the second debate. By the time Sandy hit there was little chance Governor Romney could have won the race, Sandy or no. The only politician who gained esteem from the storm, in my opinion, was Governor Christie, who told anyone who dared ask about the political impact of Sandy to go to hell. Good for him—I think a lot more of him for that than I did before.
If Sandy had any role in the election, it should have been to focus the public's mind on the cause of the increase in Atlantic storms, in the increase in hurricane intensity, in the role of climate change in the rising number of extreme weather events occuring all over the globe.
A summer of drought in the Mid-West. The wettest summer ever in the UK. A devastating flood in Pakistan. All of these once-in-a-hundred-years weather events are happening more frequently now than once every hundred years. Temperatures have increased 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and are certain to rise even further by the end of the century—when most of the people reading this will be long gone.
That's why it's so hard for politicians to address the issue—it won't impact most of us, except for the inconvenience of dealing with record wet summers, the higher cost of food impacted by the drought, or, for the unfortunate residents of coastal cities, with having to rebuild their homes and businesses each time the storm surge from a hurricane wipes out property. The idea of rising seas is an abstract, unless you're a polar bear, a resident of Tuvalu, or a subway rider in New York City.
So politicians successfully ignore the problem, because to address it would end their political careers. Imagine that—addressing the greatest threat to our grandchildren doesn't poll very well. (It's akin to talking about legitimate rape.)
The simple fact is, most voters won't vote for anyone who promises to raise their taxes, even if carbon taxes are offset by lower taxes elsewhere or returned to consumers in the form of green rebates. Politicians—except for the ones who talk about legitimate rape—aren't stupid. They won't go there, unless it's to mock an opponent for promising to halt the rising oceans.
But times are changing, and that is, perhaps, Sandy's real impact on the election of 2012. Like Katrina before her, she forced an important issue into the political arena. While Katrina resulted in a much more robust FEMA, Sandy may well result in a media that forces presidential candidates to respond to climate change.
Stranger things have happened—after all, if political leaders from two parties in bitter opposition can hug each other on the tarmac near Air Force One, surely some day a politician will have the guts to embrace the politics of climate change.