Meteorologists have to be right only some of the time. Pundits and commentators never have to be right. The day after Election Day, Newt Gingrich, two days from his confident prediction of a Mitt Romney landslide, was back on CNN giving expert advice to the president and the GOP both on how to proceed with managing the country.
George Will, who sailed into the ballot box boasting of the coming of a new era of GOP dominance based on a Romney triumph, appeared in print by the dawn’s early light on Nov. 7, decrying the foolishness of the voters for failing to fulfill his predictions.
The only safe prediction is that there will be no humility in the ranks of the punditocracy.
Ever since I watched my candidate for
Student Council president in 11th grade go crashing down to defeat, I
have made it a practice of refraining from electoral predictions. I
should tell you that I did have two hunches in this contest, however.
First, I thought that Barack Obama could not be re-elected to a second
term as president while so many people remained unemployed. Second, I
believed that Ursula Rozum was likely to draw enough votes away from Dan
Maffei to ensure the re-election of Ann Marie Buerkle
in the 24th Congressional District.
So there you have it—full disclosure. A little humility is in order. I won’t blame you if you stop reading now.
While people were voting on issues like the economy, Mother Nature was conducting a campaign of her own, terrorizing and educating towns and neighborhoods on the Atlantic Coast about the high price we pay for ignoring the impact of climate change. Hurricane Sandy tore through New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, sending sea levels to heights that no one on those coasts had seen before.
It was a tempest powerful enough to thrust an ocean-going tanker up onto the beaches of Staten Island and to toss the formidable Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, into the arms of President Barack Obama. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo both made clear reference to the impact of global warming when they were in the thick of the emergency caused by Sandy.
Eric Pooley of the Environmental Defense Fund is quoted in an article in Bloomberg Businessweek with the perfect retort to those who dismiss the connection between global warming and events like Sandy. “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped. Now we have weather on steroids.” The article is entitled “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”
Climate change was way down the list of issues important to voters in this election. A Pew survey published on Salon.com in September found that when swing state voters were polled on what they felt were the most important issues, “energy policy” came in ninth. Even worse, says the survey, the percentage of all voters surveyed who rated energy policy as “very important” fell from 77 percent in 2008 to 55 percent in 2012—placing the environment near the bottom of the voting priorities list. But that was before Sandy.
If the president decides to seize the moment and make Sandy a turning point in the struggle to reverse global warming, it will take some serious leadership on his part. Remember that it was on Obama’s watch that the BP oil spill erupted in the Gulf of Mexico, and that disaster did not dilute his enthusiasm for off-shore drilling. Judging by Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which at times made him seem eager to out-drill and out-mine Romney, it will take a major commitment on his part to truly become the president who sought to heal the planet.
Romney may have inadvertently provided what will be seen, in retrospect as the most important line to take away from this campaign. “President Obama promised,” said the GOP standard bearer as he accepted the nomination back in August, “to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise. . . is to help you and your family.”
In the world according to Sandy, we now understand that those two things are one and the same. You can’t help those families unless you can keep the ocean out of their basement.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.