Jonathan Zimmerman: The Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and the Land of Opportunity

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

In 1972, as Congress debated legislation to assist the victims of Hurricane Agnes, then Rep. Ed Koch (D) of New York rose to ask his colleagues why they didn’t extend the same generosity to “the ghettos of Harlem” and other poverty-stricken parts of America. “Do we need the intervention of God before we address ourselves to the problems that man has created?” the future New York City mayor wondered. “I would like to know why it is we distinguish between natural disasters and those made by man.”

It’s a good question, and we still don’t have an answer. Indeed, we’re not even asking it.

Consider the news coverage of hurricane Sandy and next week’s elections, which devolved into a duel of vapid prognostication. Would the hurricane-turned-superstorm help President Obama by allowing him to appear, well, “presidential?” Or would the post-hurricane damage actually make him look worse, giving an eleventh-hour boost to Mitt Romney?

Meanwhile, a minor debate broke out in the blogosphere over what was seen as Mr. Romney’s pledge – during a GOP primary debate – to close the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” Romney said last June, in a quote highlighted by the Huffington Post....

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