“For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people…
“It is that fundamental belief – it is that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper – that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: ‘E pluribus unum,’ out of many, one…
“…there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”
– Barack Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention
Even in the face of an election season full of the most rancorous and extreme partisanship, there is a takeaway from the politics of the Hurricane Sandy tragedy, one that reprises President Obama’s seminal assertion that, eight years on, there is still only one America. With the recent praises of FEMA and the president’s leadership coming from the unequivocal Chris Christie, New Jersey’s no-nonsense Republican governor, it appears that the storm that devastated that state and region has done what no hard running politician could do – show that level headed and reasonable responses to responsibilities destroy divisiveness in favor of cooperation.
“The cooperation has been great with FEMA, here on the ground,” Christie told CBS, the morning after the storm hit, “and the cooperation from the president of the United States has been outstanding. He deserves great credit.”
President Obama took note of the spirit that is allowing state and local authorities to work together, at a campaign stop in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Thursday morning. “There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm, there are just fellow Americans,” he told the Badger State crowd, “leaders of different parties working to fix what’s broken; neighbors helping neighbors cope with tragedy; communities rallying to rebuild; a spirit that says, in the end, we’re all in this together – that we rise or fall as one nation, as one people.”
There is no more room, in the face of a too real American tragedy, for drawing disingenuous political caricatures and mudslinging; the white caps of political turmoil get in the way of the productivity necessary to rebuild the northeast coast. Both the governor and the president realize that.
Voters seem to realize it, too. With less than a week to go until the election, a Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll, released Wednesday, found that 78% of likely voters had a positive view of Obama’s handling of the crisis, including two out of three Romney backers. More than seven-in-ten voters felt the same about the federal response to the hurricane, overall.
And that was before the president toured the New Jersey coastline with Gov. Christie by his side, meeting and talking with the shocked and frightened residents of the area. “I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state,” the governor said at a joint press conference during the tour, doubling down on his acknowledgement of the president’s efforts.
President Obama understands that cooperation is a winning formula, not just for his reelection, but for the spirit which has built this country since World War Two. “I’ve shown my willingness to work with anybody, of any party, to move this country forward,” he said in Green Bay, “and if you want to break the gridlock in Congress, you’ll vote for leaders – whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or independents – who feel the same way.”
The president, then, has taken this opportunity to remind us of who he is, and who we are. At this late date in the process, he is exhorting our divided nation to make the true moral choice, and vote for government cooperation among the many over appropriation by the few, for partnership over partisanship, for reasoned dialogue in the public interest over filibuster and obstructionism for the monied interests.
For your country’s sake, he is saying, it is up to you to assert the strength of unity your vote can provide, regardless of your party. By all means, vote for whomever you prefer, but vote for those who see this as a government that works best when we all work together.