Boarded up with bottled water and sustained by an undeterred Wi-Fi connection, I read a lot while Hurricane Sandy spattered on Monday and Tuesday.
I learned that oyster beds create undulation and contour that can assuage the force of approaching waves and allow marsh grass to grow and abate shore erosion. Trillions of oysters once stabilized New York’s shoreline, which has recently suffered in their absence.
I learned that there is a physical National Response Coordination Center, where officials decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water is shipped and how to coordinate a massive cleanup.
I learned that the unlicensed hotel business in New York is extremely lucrative but also extremely illegal, as Sandy swept off the facade of a building and revealed its identical rooms. A similar yet unrelated disaster: I learned that the future of Star Wars is now in Disney’s hands, as they acquired George Lucas’ Lucasfilm Ltd., including the rights to the movies.
What was strangely absent from my learning was any kind of political rhetoric. The pundits fell silent. The campaigns canceled events. Obama went back to D.C., leaving a rally in Orlando in Bill Clinton’s hands. Paul Ryan suspended all events on Monday evening and Tuesday. In Ohio, Romney held a “storm relief event” instead of a rally (though it’s unclear how helpful the collected soup cans will be). This was truly a welcome relief.
Politics have flooded news portals for the last 16 months. How refreshing, to have a non-partisan two days. How delightful, to see Obama and Romney leave the picture, for a moment. Increasingly, politics are more prominent and more partisan. It takes a natural disaster to divert our attention, and finally, we can face an issue in solidarity without political strings.
There were some who saw the storm through a political lens. Larry Bartels, a political science professor at Vanderbilt declared that “all other things being equal, the incumbent party does less well when it’s too wet or too dry,” as opposed to having optimal weather. He conducted a study on this, apparently.
Romney took some heat for his debate declarations against funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But other than that, the political dialogue quieted. And above the howling, we could finally hear the rest of the news.
With the election just a week away, our nation is becoming increasingly polarized. Sweeping politics off the national agenda reminded me that there are some issues that can’t be separated by party lines. It was refreshing to stand in solidarity as a community. As Obama and Romney hit the road again, I can’t help but think: Hurricane Sandy, in a way, was the calm before the real storm.
Emily Orrson is a College senior from Baltimore, Md. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @schmemily1. “The Half of It” appears every other Thursday.