Sandy could make all the difference in the final week of the US presidential election. Sandy is of course the hurricane that has battered the north east coast of the United States in the past week. It has affected America rather like snow in London affects the UK. Hurricanes come every year, they hit Florida and the Carolinas, but when they strike at the heart of Wall Street and send internet start ups scurrying for pens and paper to continue their work the effect seems magnified.
And in one photo the core of Mitt Romney’s campaign has been undermined. The reason he won the first debate and why he lead in the national polls and drew close in the crucial states was that he presented himself as a reasonable sort of person who was on the side of Americans.
This pitch hit a pretty big minefield early in the autumn when tapes emerged of him appearing to write off 47 per cent of the electorate because they were never going to vote for him. But President Obama’s fumbling, detached, even disinterested arguments on prime time TV gave Romney the bump he desperately needed.
This week Obama got to be comforter in chief.
The current election cycle has thrown the normal order of things on its head. Usually the Republicans do best when the focus is on foreign policy and defence, and Democrats benefit when the debate is about domestic issues, healthcare, employment and welfare. Barack Obama seemed like the aggressor in the debates between the candidates, he seemed like the one pushing the international dimension, thriving as Commander-in-Chief, whereas Mitt Romney tried to talk about jobs in every single answer.
And this is why Hurricane Sandy matters. Obama, despite the high personal regard many people have for him, has struggled to connect with voters in this election. He has appeared detached and reserved, and perhaps a little bit overtaken by the events that have buffeted his efforts to bring change over the past four years.
But in one photo, the shot of his arms stretched around Dana Vanzant, his empathy was personified in a way no debate zinger could ever manage.
Whenever a natural disaster strikes questions loom over why it happened, why those affected should suffer in the way they do. And there will usually be some loose cannon eager to read theological meaning into the indescribable and build justification for one cause or another. Maybe God is punishing a certain group for something, or showing his displeasure at something else.
This close to an election it would be all too easy to read political meanings into events that we cannot comprehend. And following pronouncements about biblical voting which leave little to the imagination or personal discretion, a little part of me wants to think this is God having a joke at their expense.
And then I stop myself. Because I would be doing just the same as those loose cannons I shot down a few sentences before. There is pain and there is brokenness and there are people suffering because they have lost those they love most. Sandy is not a political pawn making moves on behalf of a capricious God. It is the outworking of a world that is hurting and hoping for a redemption that will one day come.
Whether Romney or Obama win next week there will be parts of the country still reeling from the devastation. Because while God is the God of the elements of the air, the wind, the rain and the storm, these elements, rather like God himself, will not bow to the whim of political masters.
Image by Brian Birke