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Hurricane Sandy: Romney's missed opportunity

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Mitt Romney's lackluster response to Hurricane Sandy has been a wasted opportunity, both for his campaign and, more importantly, for the hard-hit people on the East Coast.

Leonard Benardo Jennifer Weiss
5 November 2012

As Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc during the final week of the presidential election campaign, the candidates have been forced to retool their get–out-the-vote efforts. President Obama has vigorously attended to the relief and recovery process, providing assistance and coordination to governors, mayors and other key officials, supporting federal agencies like FEMA and deploying the National Guard. Governor Mitt Romney has pivoted from campaign rallies to storm relief rallies where he has gathered food for hard-hit areas in the Northeast. Romney is obviously at a disadvantage precisely because he isn’t commander-in-chief and is in no position to advance large-scale disaster assistance. Despite his handicap, one is left wondering whether there was more that candidate Romney might have done to inspire those independents he so desperately needs to defeat the incumbent.

This tragedy was the ideal moment for CEO Romney to bring his managerial bona fides to bear. Wasn’t the hurricane, as it were, the perfect storm for Romney to showcase his business leader acumen? Romney and his devotees have repeatedly averred that the former Bain Capital chief’s particular expertise—his sharp analytical skills and corporate deal-making prowess—make him particularly qualified for the office of president. Could he not have employed these competencies to encourage corporate entities to offer shelter, food, rescue vehicles, and other crucial supplies to people in need? Wouldn’t it have been the ultimate opportunity to demonstrate in real time that the private sector is more efficient than government? But this moment was squandered. Instead of staging canned food collections in Ohio where the cans were purchased by his campaign but purportedly made to look like they were donated by locals, Romney could have solicited cash donations from corporate titans for the Red Cross.

Beyond his uber-business know-how, Romney might have dug into his personal background to evince and advance a greater leadership role during the crisis. Throughout the campaign, the public has heard plenty about Romney’s commitment to the Mormon Church, first as a young missionary, and later as an unpaid pastor. Romney and his surrogates have touted the myriad ways he has helped people in need often commenting, among other acts of compassion, how he had once footed the college tuition bill for two boys in his church severely harmed in an auto accident. 

Given that the former governor is likely the best known Mormon in the US, might he have harnessed members of his six-million strong Church to participate in an all-out collective relief effort? Could he have mobilized pastors to organize bus trips for their congregants to New York and New Jersey? In a tight race where any false steps land you in hot water with round-the-clock polling, Romney has perhaps understandably downplayed his faith. But with a little planning and imagination, he could easily have become the face of a faith-based national recovery campaign. 

In light of Romney’s boast that he was a “turnaround specialist” who saved the Salt Lake City Olympics, might he have found a means to turn around the fate of some of Hurricane Sandy’s victims? Had the bulk of the damage occurred in swing states like Virginia, Colorado, or Iowa is there any question that Romney would have been touring floodplains, visiting neighborhoods without power, and offering blankets, diapers and flashlights to bereft families? In an ironic twist, the CEO of New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie (nearly, many say, Romney’s vice presidential choice), turned out to be the GOP’s Republican manager du jour. Joining forces with President Obama, Christie threw ideology to the wind as he struggled to cope with his state’s meltdown. Though obviously impelled by exigency, he sets the larger example of good business practice, management and ethics.

This article is part of the 'How it looks from here' openDemocracy feature on the 2012 US elections. For more worldwide perspectives on the presidential race, click here.

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