Heeeeeere’s Frankenstorm. All bets are off.
Television editors and reporters and some of our flightiest politicians have abandoned the presidential campaign for more frightful stuff. They’re determined, as usual, to make something bad a lot worse.
The tone of the coverage, not of the storm but of the wait for the storm, ranges from “excited” to “hysterical.” A tsunami warning was canceled Sunday for Hawaii, but you might think if it could squeeze through the Panama Canal and make a few sharp turns out of the Gulf of Mexico it would threaten Manhattan. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg could have taken that possibility into account — or maybe by shutting down the trains and subways he was preventing thirsty evildoers in Manhattan from traveling into the ‘burbs to find a man-sized soda pop.
This time, the threat to the Atlantic coast was real, but “television news” in times of peril invites both skepticism and hysteria. Usually, but not always. When Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is nobody’s nanny, speaks, everybody has to listen: “Don’t be stupid. Get out!”
We like to think of America as the land of the big shoulders, hog butcher for the world, stacker of wheat — stormy, husky and brawling. That’s in fair weather. Carl Sandburg wouldn’t recognize men at the supermarkets grabbing as many rolls of toilet paper as their grubby hands can hold. The supermarkets typically run out of quilted, super absorbent and extra fluffy first, which tells us something sad about “the fearfulest generation.” Rain, wind or shine, the Sears and Roebuck catalog, slick and glossy paper stock or not, was good enough for “the greatest generation.” Not ours.
In Washington, where shoulders are rarely as big and broad as those in Chicago or Pittsburgh or Albuquerque, a frightened stacker of paper (not wheat) is more likely to die under the wheels of a speeding grocery cart than in the embrace of a hurricane.
Excited talk of potential tracks, storm cones, computer models, water-vapor loops and tidal cycles diverted attention from the Romney surge and settled attention on the storm surge. And just in time, too, since the mainstream media do not like to talk about unhappy campaign trends and cycles. Nevertheless, The New York Times, which often resembles the media arm of the Democratic National Committee, is reluctantly altering its trend lines, conceding subtly that there may be something worse than wind and water dead ahead for the Chicago messiah.
Grim men are huddled in basements in Chicago and Boston, oblivious to all winds but those blowing through their computer models. The trend — “momentum” is a word that dare not speak its name — clearly lies with Republican Mitt Romney as the campaign enters the final week. Anxiety reigns. Romney wise men are anxious that the dramatic break toward their man is overdue. The national polls, showing Mr. Romney with leads of 3 to 6 points and running even or better with the president in Ohio and other swing states, are mostly beyond the margin of error. But the needle has barely moved for the past week.
“Some of us are asking whether we peaked too soon,” one Romney operative tells me. “We don’t think so, but we’re ready for Nov. 7 to come and be gone.”
The great fear at Obama headquarters, one operative tells The New York Times, “is that a large number of voters suddenly will get so fed up with the back and forth of the campaign, the economic outlook and the partisan rancor that they break for Romney if only to try something new.”
Even the president couldn’t blame those “large numbers of voters” for wanting to try something new. His campaign has been wallowing in trivia, trifle and titillation for days. First, it was manufactured outrage over an imaginary bird, then a “war on women” that frightens only embittered feminist spinsters, and a running obsession with sex. The president’s promise of free condoms for women has given way to a cheap TV commercial urging the young female voter to treat her first-time vote as something like losing her virginity, and she should reward Barack Obama with her innocence. “Your first time,” confides Hollywood literary celeb Lena Dunham, her voice dribbling warm ooze, “shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy. It should be with a guy who really cares about and understands women.”
Surely not a guy who promises everything and four years later hasn’t delivered anything. A guy who didn’t even send thank-you pansies and forget-me-nots on the morning after. What a rotter.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.