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A Tale of Two Crises
Whether or not to get serious is the choice facing the electorate.

Watching Sandy in the Situation Room, October 29, 2012 (The White House/Pete Souza)

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Mark Steyn

In political terms, Hurricane Sandy and the Benghazi-consulate debacle exemplify at home and abroad the fundamental unseriousness of the United States in the Obama era. In the days after Sandy hit, Barack Obama was generally agreed to have performed well. He had himself photographed in the White House Situation Room nodding thoughtfully to bureaucrats (“John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; David Agnew, Director for Intergovernmental Affairs”) and tweeted it to his 3.2 million followers. He appeared in New Jersey wearing a bomber jacket rather than a suit to demonstrate that when the going gets tough the tough get out a monogrammed Air Force One bomber jacket. He announced that he’d instructed his officials to answer all calls within 15 minutes because in America “we leave nobody behind.” By doing all this, the president “shows” he “cares” — which is true in the sense that in Benghazi he was willing to leave the entire consulate staff behind, and nobody had their calls answered within seven hours, because presumably he didn’t care. So John Brennan, the Counterterrorism guy, and Tony Blinken, the National Security honcho, briefed the president on the stiff breeze, but on September 11, 2012, when a little counterterrorism was called for, nobody bothered calling the Counterterrorism Security Group, the senior U.S. counterterrorism bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, FEMA rumbles on, the “emergency-management agency” that manages emergencies, very expensively, rather than preventing them. Late on the night Sandy made landfall, I heard on the local news that my state’s governor had asked the president to declare a federal emergency in every New Hampshire county so that federal funds could be “unlocked.” A quarter-million people in the Granite State were out of power. It was reported that, beyond our borders, 8 million people in a dozen states were out of power.

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But that’s not an “emergency.” No hurricane hit my county. Indeed, no hurricane hit New Hampshire. No hurricane hit “17 states,” the number of states supposedly “affected” by Sandy at its peak. A hurricane hit a few coastal counties of New Jersey, New York and a couple of other states, and that’s it. Everyone else had slightly windier-than-usual wind — and yet they were out of power for days. In a county entirely untouched by Sandy, my office manager had no electricity for a week. Not because of an “emergency” but because of a decrepit and vulnerable above-the-ground electrical-distribution system that ought to be a national embarrassment to any developed society. A few weeks ago, I chanced to be in Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a French colony of 6,000 people on a couple of treeless rocks in the North Atlantic. Every electric line is underground. Indeed, the droll demoiselle who leads tours of the islands makes a point of amusingly drawing American visitors’ attention to this local feature.

If you’re saying, “Whoa, that sounds expensive,” well, our government is more expensive than any government in history — and we have nothing to show for it. Imagine if Obama’s 2009 stimulus had been spent burying every electric pole on the Eastern Seaboard. Instead, just that one Obama bill spent a little shy of a trillion dollars, and no one can point to a single thing it built. “A big storm requires Big Government,” pronounced the New York Times. But Washington is so big-hearted with Big Government it spends $188 million an hour that it doesn’t have — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Ramadan. And yet, mysteriously, multi-trillion-dollar Big Government Obama-style can’t doanything except sluice food stamps to the dependent class, lavish benefits and early retirement packages to the bureaucrats that service them, and so-called government “investment” to approved Obama cronies.

So you can have Big Government bigger (or, anyway, more expensive) than any government’s ever been, and the lights still go out in 17 states — because your president spent 6 trillion bucks and all the country got was a lousy Air Force One bomber jacket for him to wear while posing for a Twitpic answering the phone with his concerned expression.

Even in those few parts of the Northeast that can legitimately claim to have been clobbered by Sandy, Big Government made it worse. Last week, Nanny Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, rivaled his own personal best for worst mayoral performance since that snowstorm a couple of years back. This is a man who spends his days micro-managing the amount of soda New Yorkers are allowed to have in their beverage containers rather than, say, the amount of ocean New Yorkers are allowed to have in their subway system — just as, in the previous crisis, the municipal titan who can regulate the salt out of your cheeseburger proved utterly incapable of regulating any salt onto Sixth Avenue. Imagine if this preening buffoon had expended as much executive energy on flood protection for the electrical grid and transit system as he does on approved quantities of carbonated beverages. But that’s leadership 21-century-style: When the going gets tough, the tough ban transfats.

Back in Benghazi, the president who looks so cool in a bomber jacket declined to answer his beleaguered diplomats’ calls for help — even though he had aircraft and special forces in the region. Too bad. He’s all jacket and no bombers. This, too, is an example of America’s uniquely profligate impotence. When something goes screwy at a ramshackle consulate halfway round the globe, very few governments have the technological capacity to watch it unfold in real time. Even fewer have deployable military assets only a couple of hours away. What is the point of unmanned drones, of military bases around the planet, of elite special forces trained to the peak of perfection if the president and the vast bloated federal bureaucracy cannot rouse themselves to action? What is the point of outspending Russia, Britain, France, China, Germany, and every middle-rank military power combined if, when it matters, America cannot urge into the air one plane with a couple of dozen commandos? In Iraq, al-Qaeda is running training camps in the western desert. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are all but certain to return most of the country to its pre-9/11 glories. But in Washington the head of the world’s biggest “counterterrorism” bureaucracy briefs the president on flood damage and downed trees.

I don’t know whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan can fix things, but I do know that Barack Obama and Joe Biden won’t even try — and that therefore a vote for Obama is a vote for the certainty of national collapse. Look at Lower Manhattan in the dark, and try to imagine what America might look like after the rest of the planet decides it no longer needs the dollar as global reserve currency. For four years, we have had a president who can spend everything but build nothing. Nothing but debt, dependency, and decay. As I said at the beginning, in different ways the response to Hurricane Sandy and Benghazi exemplify the fundamental unseriousness of the superpower at twilight. Whether or not to get serious is the choice facing the electorate on Tuesday.

But let him keep the bomber jacket.

 Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2012 Mark Steyn



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