Over the past week, news reports and commentary about the final hours of the presidential election have intertwined with coverage of Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the East Coast of the United States. Warm smiles behind shiny promises of a bright future fill the screen, replaced a minute later by dazed and frantic faces surveying a moldy, waterlogged present. I feel as though I’m watching the closing scene of The Godfather, in which quick cuts take us back and forth between an infant’s baptism and the brutal killing of rival family members. The movie forces us to think about values and priorities, and the damage that can be inflicted by empty words and shortsighted decisions.
New York and New Jersey are not considered political battleground states, but they look as though they’ve been through a war. Ten days ago, most voters in that part of the country were concerned about unemployment, rising prices, health care, and the deficit. Today, many of them are wondering where they’re going to live, and focused on how cold they feel and how hungry their children are.
Meanwhile, the candidates have continued to spend millions of dollars to replay savage, partially-true television commercials, and to travel the last miles of the campaign trail, repeating those same messages in person to cheering crowds of supporters.
Had this all been part of a movie, the character in the role of the president would have abandoned his re-election efforts — ignoring the exasperated pleas of his chief of staff and other advisers – and headed to a devastated neighborhood to distribute blankets and bail out the basement of some shocked citizen who’d been planning to vote against him. Eventually the incumbent’s opponent, realizing how inappropriate and insensitive it is to keep campaigning amid so much suffering, joins the president, and together they deliver hot food and medical supplies to the grateful masses. Along the way they generate a new-found hope for the nation and, no doubt, one or both of them utters something about what it means to “truly reach across the aisle to help our fellow man.”
Had I seen such a film, I would have been rolling my eyes and adding to the cynical consensus: Oh, Hollywood, there you go again. None of this would ever happen. What world are you living in?
Politicians, with the top prize within their grasp, turning their backs on ambition? Sacrificing their own future to directly benefit other human beings in a time of need? Extending a hand in order to comfort, rather than to injure? It would make for pretty lame cinema. But in real life, that’s what I’d call moving forward. And a reason to believe in America.