Our Jersey Shore Moment
A century-old oak crashes onto a driveway, pancaking both of my friend’s cars. Trees of oak and elm, spruce and birch bombard a battered neighborhood that is my home.
Trick clearly vanquished this Halloween’s treat. Hurricane Sandy cast its fury on the Jersey Shore and ocean beds across New York and New Jersey. It snapped the sinews of town life, muffled the hums of life’s rhythms.
Main Street in my North Jersey town is pitch black. My c-store of choice has been closed for days. Quick Chek, Dunkin’ Donuts, the local bagel shop and countless restaurants sit shuttered, powerless both figuratively and literally because of a storm whose Greek origins ironically mean “defending men.”
Sandy defended no one and offended many. Too many friends displaced, too many wires downed, too many streets and parks closed.
And yet through the turbulence, or perhaps because of it, great stories arose. I’m writing this column from a friend’s basement, where there is a wireless connection. I realize I’m writing a December column knowing that Halloween has just past, Thanksgiving is weeks away and, by the time you read this, the turkey will be long carved and Christmas trees will be coming up.
We extol the holiday’s spirit of sharing and gift giving. Truly, such sentiment should not—and is not—reserved exclusively for the last month of the year. As I write, countless neighbors are hosting absolute strangers for a hot meal. A resident started a program to find people with extra generators who could loan them to those sitting in darkness with tots and tykes. Churches and temples were rapidly coordinating Friday night potluck dinners. A local mall was transformed into a daytime shelter for thousands of folks, from infants to elderly.
On the political front, just days before a nation went to vote, an ascending Republican firebrand was glad-handing the imperiled Democratic President along the devastated sands of the Jersey Shore.
“I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and his compassion,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (shown above, with the president at a nursing home) told media outlets in late October. He talked of the calls he and President Obama shared and the promise of swift federal action.
Christie offered how affected areas needed clean drinking water, restored power and children back in school. “I discussed all of those issues today with the president,” he said, “and I’m pleased to report that he has sprung into action immediately to help get us those things while we were in the car riding together.”
And Obama was equally effusive about Christie. “Gov. Christie, throughout this process, has been responsive; he has been aggressive in making sure that the state got out in front of this incredible storm,” Obama said, calling the Republican’s leadership “extraordinary.”
Was this a political power play for Obama to appear bipartisan just days before a tightly contested election? Was it this visit that swung Obama to victory over Mitt Romney? And what about Christie? Was this a portent to a bid for higher office for the straight-talking governor, or at least the bipartisan ad he will air during a second-term run for office in an otherwise blue state?
Or perhaps, just perhaps, there was at least some awareness of both that there are things that actually trump hyperpartisanship, such as death and destruction?
New Jersey and New York will recover. Yes, in many cases, it will take years to rebuild what was destroyed in hours. Dollars—both public and private—will flow because recoveries, evident in the Carolinas after Gloria or Miami after Andrew, spur jobs and long-term economic growth when executed efficiently.
And what about our country’s political storm? Can Obama-Christie be a model for a less vitriolic future centered on necessary compromise for the country’s good, or will we Republican and Democrats continue operating as if 1+1=1+1?
May the national good trump political triumphalism. Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.