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Should politics stop at the flood waters' edge?

As President Obama and his team deal with the after effects, how will Hurricane Sandy change the presidential campaign? EPA/Pete Souza

Since Katrina in 2005, hurricanes have become political events in America. This has occurred in part because Katrina proved so damaging to the Republican Party, and in part because the storms keep making landfall during the parties’ national conventions. In the wake of the storm surge, each side rushes forward to seize control of the narrative: who’s at fault for whatever failures pundits perceive.

Normally the politicisation waits until the clouds clear, but Hurricane Sandy is sweeping toward the East Coast at a particularly political time. Eight days until the election, partisans are attempting to score points even as tides continue to rise.

From the right come plaintive wails tying Sandy to, of all things, Benghazi. Newt Gingrich connected the two over the weekend, divining dark significance from the president’s decision to cancel his travel schedule for the hurricane but not the consulate attack. And news that the job report, due out just before Election Day, may be delayed sent conspiracy theories rattling across conservative media.

From the left come Romney statements about his plans to privatise or de-federalise emergency response. Others slag Romney’s efforts to shunt donations to the Red Cross as “yet another example of how everything Mitt Romney touches – even disasters – end up a disaster.”

Even those journalists not trying to assign blame are captive to the myopia of campaign season. No sooner had the hurricane’s predicted path brushed against a swing state than the stories began popping up. What would it mean for turnout? Which party would it hurt most? If electricity is out on Election Day, will polls still open?

Fair enough to wonder. But election obsession has acted as an inverse prism on the early coverage, forcing the story (like every other major event) through the filter of its impact on November 6th. As the flood waters rise in some of my favourite places in Brooklyn and Long Island, even I – a politics addict to my core – can see the need to put the race in perspective.

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