The time is ripe for speculation.
It is always time to speculate about political this or that, but now it is especially ripe, in both of my countries. Moreover, events we can speculate about in one give us additional reason to speculate about the other.
Most pressing as stimuli is the super storm, coinciding with the last week of the presidential campaign and maybe even affecting transport and electricity on election day.
It's already lowered stock markets in Israel and Europe, due to fears for unpredictable consequences, and canceled trading in New York. Will it aid Barack Obama while demonstrating his presidential presence as he orders this and that to save lives? Or will it hurt him by one or more of the following:
•If the storm is as great as predicted, no amount of presidential effort can save the incumbent from underlings who screw up, or the power of nature that is too great for him or anyone else.
•Looming in the possibilities is the enormity of more than 400,000 people ordered to move out of harm's way. Not only is that a profound undertaking, demanding a great deal of administrative skill and good luck to be done well, but there is the possibility of some evacuees behaving like those of New Orleans. The last thing that Obama needs is media coverage of racially-tinged violence in crowded places of refuge.
•And there is the simpler possibility that enough people avoid voting to tip things against Obama. His constituency is likely to be more vulnerable to the problems of messy streets, uneliable transportation, and everything else that can make it easier to stay home.
Overall, it looks like a plus for Romney, but an effective campaign of emphasizing Obama's presidentialness, and good fortune that nothing goes terribly wrong can make it a plus for Obama. However, there is an awful lot that can happen badly. It probably won't be Obama's fault, but blame will be amorphous, media driven, and political, and will not fall evenly across states whose electoral votes are crucial to one candidate or another.
Romney has it in his Mormon genes to be helpful. Better than drumming up votes safely away from the northeast would be to role up his sleeves, bring along his children and aides, and look enthusiastic and serious for the media while filling sand bags, or serving coffee in an effort to appear ecumenical.
The stimulus of speculation here comes from the continued rocket attacks from Gaza. They are averaging about one an hour. The IDF has spread leaflets over Gaza warning residents to move away from residential areas where rockets are fired, and ordering them to say at least 300 meters from the border with Israel. That's a considerable distance in Gaza, which in some places is barely 5000 meters wide.
Does this mean that Israel's leaders are preparing to do something about the rockets, more than the standard stuff of liquidating a guilty individual or bombing a facility likely to be empty? Although most of the rockets do no damage, they create great anxiety, and demands for quiet. Israel also has a looming election, which adds to the weight of public opinion.
The leaflets may have been nothing more than a message for Gaza's activists, to cool it or else.
However, the great storm presents an opportunity. It is already prominent in the world's media, and monopolizing that of the United States. If predictions are right, it will stay that way, or even increase for the next days, or until after the election.
Now you figure what may happen here while attention is elsewhere.
Remember, this is all speculation. No assurances, or even hypothetical probabilities.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at October 29, 2012 07:46 AM