Hurricane Sandy: Politicize This Tragedy!

When government has failed its most basic responsibility, it should be discussed, says Peter Beinart.

We’re only a few hours into Hurricane Sandy, and commentators left and right are already accusing each other of “politicizing” the storm.

As if that’s a bad thing.

In fact, politicizing is exactly what this storm needs. Last night, the cable networks barely mentioned global warming. Evidently discussing the root causes of the biblical weather that has struck the United States—and much of the rest of the globe—in recent years is considered bad form.

I suspect that in the days ahead President Obama will avoid mentioning Mitt Romney’s proposed disbanding of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for fear of being accused of injecting crass electoral concerns into what should be a pristinely apolitical natural disaster.

The sanctimony is nauseating. In a democracy, politics is not something we stop discussing when tragedy strikes. It’s the mechanism we use, as best we can, to prevent such tragedies.

If there’s one thing that even the Tea Party agrees that government should do, it is protect lives, property, and public order. When government policy allows, and even subsidizes, business and individuals to engage in behavior that heats up the oceans, and that extra heat helps produce killer storms like Sandy, government has failed its most basic responsibility.

And when Sandy hits, and government lacks the resources to save as many lives as possible, political outrage is a much healthier reaction than pious fatalism.

So far, one party has spent election 2012 ignoring climate change and the other party has spent election 2012 mocking it. Now, a week before America votes, a storm almost certainly amplified by climate change has devastated the East Coast of the United States.

If, in the wake of Sandy, the two men seeking the presidency decide it’s undignified to discuss what just might be the most important public-policy issue facing the planet, then we’re in even worse shape than I thought.