The hurricane that ravaged America’s east coast over the last week has left behind a detritus that even the most resilient New Yorker will take time to absorb. That first view of the Manhattan skyline, on the road from the airport into the city, always has the power to move you — except that, this time, the taxi ride cannot avoid the potholes that seem to have developed overnight as a result of the surging waters.
Even the memorial to the victims who perished in the World Trade Center bombings on September 11, 2001, is closed. Disaster management teams are pumping out water from the memorial and sewer holes have been opened so that the large pipes can directly flush the water back into the underground sewage system. Water to water, dust to dust, a double whammy requiem to the dead and a reminder to the living: let’s not take New York for granted.
The Hispanic man selling ‘We shall never forget’ magazines outside the memorial says he was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the planes struck that morning. “I never came back here all these years... I only came back when they took Osama bin Laden out,” he says.
As for the man responsible for taking bin Laden out last year, Barack Obama, he is on a whirlwind tour of America’s so-called “swing states” over these last 48 hours, hoping to make that last push that will return him to the White House. His challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, isn’t letting go either. At a rally in Iowa on Saturday, Romney pulled no punches, pointing out that Obama had been so obsessed with his reform agenda that he had never really been able to fend off the economic crisis and high unemployment figures (7.9 per cent over the weekend).
According to CNN, polls predict that Obama and Romney are tied exactly at 47 per cent, although Nate Silver, the blogger for The New York Times newspaper, who predicted the last election in 2008 accurately, has said that Obama is leading in all the eight “swing states” in America and has more than an 80 per cent chance of winning the election.
At the 9/11 memorial, a cop who watched the towers come down in 2001 and witnessed the death dance of the hurricane last week, says he wasn’t so sure. “The polls are really close, but I don’t know if Obama will scrape through. You see in America, we still vote according to race and I’m not telling you this because I’m black...
“Obama was good for America, and I’m not telling you this because I’m black. Obama ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He pulled us out from the mess in those countries... You want to know why the terrorists hit the towers? You have to go back to history, perhaps to the politics that surrounds Israel,” he adds.
Analysts admit that at this stage in the game, statistics are mere fodder for ideologues. Obama supporters argue that the fact that 1,71,000 jobs were added in October means that Obama is finally getting a crack at the economic crisis. But Romney’s people point out that the unemployment rate has gone up from 7.8 to 7.9 per cent. As for the fact that the Republican governor of the nearby state of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has gone on record to compliment Obama on his handling of the hurricane, they say it is “just politics... He wants to stand for president four years from now and at the time will want his pound of flesh from Obama and the Democrats to support him.”
On television, advice on how to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane — throw out tainted food, update your tetanus shots — is vying with election analyses and other news of the day. How lines to buy petrol have been prolonged by five-six hours and how the cost of petrol has gone up. That the eponymous New York marathon, scheduled to take place this Sunday, has been cancelled. When the subways and the tunnels that transport the city’s 19 million population would be up and running. And whether the death blow dealt by nature last week could tilt the race in favour of the incumbent — or the insider — to the White House.