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Monday, November 5, 2012

Leadership Failure

Mike, Andy & Chris

What’s the difference between superstorm Sandy and the horrible events that preceded it — from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to Hurricane Hugo in 1989 to Hurricane Irene in 2011?

Answer: They happened in summer. This is November.

It’s cold. And getting colder.

All those storms did much greater damage overall and caused far greater loss of life. But for the 4 million without power in the greater New York City area in the fifth day of the aftermath, the casual, minute-by-minute suffering is fast becoming comparable.

Shortages of potable water, food running low and hundreds and hundreds of square miles from Lower Manhattan to Suffolk County to the Jersey Shore to the Connecticut shore plunging into darkness as the clock strikes 6 — this is what modern civilization is designed to defend against.

The powerlessness is not only electrical, though that is the most obvious aspect of it; it is actual.

There is nothing to be done against 13 feet of water except escape it or suffer it and its aftermath. We were powerless against this force of nature, and we are right to be humbled in the wake of it.

But we are not, as a polity, powerless to mitigate the effects of the aftermath.

Indeed, maintaining civilization at times of extreme risk to civilized conduct is the reason government exists in the first place — because we come together in societies in the first place in a mutual-defense pact against foes and forces that seek to do us ill.

And it is this primary role in which it appears our governments, local and state and federal, are failing us.

We are choosing a president and thousands of other elected officials in a few days’ time. These people have two responsibilities. The first is explicit: They are supposed to act as representatives on our behalf in the management of our government. The second is implicit: They are supposed to be our leaders in times of trouble and crisis.

Are they being leaders?

What we are getting from them is a variety of emotional and tactical responses, none of them reassuring or comforting or confidence-inspiring.

Read the full column

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