Friday, November 2, 2012

Being Conscious of Our Blame

The concept of blame is extremely important in understanding the aftermath and impacts of a natural disaster, but rarely are we conscious of the extent to which we blame natural disasters for the events after the storm. What will we actually blame Hurricane Sandy for doing? What destruction or devastation can be attributed to the hurricane? Usually, we quantify the blame of hurricanes in lost dollars and lost time. However, as the media has been pointing out for the last week, there is the potential to place blame on Hurricane Sandy for lost votes and potentially a lost election next Tuesday.

We heard over and over on national news networks that the hurricane was headed toward several swing states and could have a big influence on early voting numbers, a metric in which President Obama is said to be doing particularly well in. With the storm either discouraging or preventing people from leaving their homes to cast an early vote, the swing state returns on Election Day could potentially be impacted. This framework obviously raises the stakes of the storm and prompts us to entertain the question: What if Hurricane Sandy goes down in history as the storm that decided a presidential election? Sure, this question is purely speculative with just four days before the race is decided, but this thought is worth exploring as it allows us to question the legacies of natural disaster and how we re-appropriate them to explain major moments in history.

Again and again in our study of disasters, we’ve wrestled with the notion that natural disasters are “acts of God”, an assertion that allows us to relieve ourselves of the burdens of cause and blame. We have continuously seen how framing disasters in this way in the aftermath of disaster has often been problematic, long preventing us from exploring the role that humans often play in the devastation that we ascribe to hurricanes or floods. On November 7th, I’ll be very interested in seeing if Hurricane Sandy becomes increasingly characterized as an act of God within the political world, with one side potentially using it to explain a loss and the other to support a victory. Before we cement the role of Hurricane Sandy in the historical discourse of the 2012 Presidential Election, we should take a step back and seriously evaluate any claims being made about the impact of the storm on the outcome of the race.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney helps to load donated goods as he attends a storm relief campaign event in Kettering, Ohio, on Oct. 30, 2012. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images )
President Barack Obama asks a question during a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing about Hurricane Sandy, as it threatens the East Coast, at FEMA headquarters in Washington, October 28, 2012. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

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