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Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy Headshot

Sandy, Christie, Obama and Us: Effective Government and the Art of Politics

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A change of wind direction can alter the urgency of winning a spitting contest, and at times even expose the lunacy of the competition. It can also, I hope, revitalize our faith in government. In the midst of a hotly contested election that has often victimized truth and transformed the art of politics into rhetorical pornography entered Sandy -- hurricane, nor'easter, super-meteorological event, Frankenstorm, source of social and political revelation.

Our relationship with government can often be distant and abstract. For many of us, the biggest role it has in our lives is taxes or jury duty. For too many of us, we may support one policy or another -- marriage equality, the right to choose, protecting the environment -- but in the end, for many have little practical impact on our day to day lives. Understanding that makes it no less important for us to stand with those whose lives are impacted by these issues.

Sandy reminds us all too well of what government can do for us that no one else can -- not private business, not faith-based organizations, not individuals acting alone. Government.

Never have I been so appreciative of that concept than in recent hours. Government -- local, state and federal -- did what no other institution in our society could have done with such preparation, speed and funding. To be sure, faith-based organizations and private businesses can play a role in assisting those displaced by the hurricane, but they could not have matched, much less exceeded, what government did in preparing for and responding to Sandy so effectively. Nor should they.

Research funded by multiple government agencies provided advance warnings about the path, power and potential devastation of this mass of wind-blown chaos. Strategies for assisting the public in dire situations took form in government offices long before the first cyclonic winds touched the coastline. When the dreaded "unexpected" emerged as consequences of the storm like ghouls on Halloween, the often lumbering nature of big government institutions demonstrated agility in providing professional help.

Government is not perfect, but it's not broken either. Many government leaders on both sides of the aisle simply have succumbed to a level of partisanship that seems to lack a necessary level of patriotism. Study carefully what Sandy exposed.

Scores of people suddenly realized that some matters are more important than politics. Leaders who ordinarily appear in public as political adversaries suddenly demonstrated a level of substantive cooperation that appeared to reside in the family of compassion. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, like mayors in numerous cities hit by the storm, kept citizens informed, provided much-needed information and sought to calm emotions in the face of grave difficulty. The President of the United States and the Governor of New Jersey modeled aggressive communication that resulted in quick action that made a difference for good in the lives of innumerable people. Why, Republican Gov. Chris Christie even praised Democrat President Obama for his quick responses to requests for help. It's a shame that the occurrence is worth pointing out, but it is because of its uniqueness.

I do not know what size government should be or which agencies need to be eradicated and which agencies, strengthened. But I know we need a government big enough, funded sufficiently and organized effectively enough to help people as quickly as possible when their lives and property are threatened and their worries and fears are exacerbated -- a part of what the Constitution calls providing for the public welfare.

I am grateful for the government entities, employees and strategies that we saw helping people in need these past several days. I praise the people who as political opponents found the capacity to come together in helpful cooperation in a crisis.

Our government's response to Sandy -- exemplified in Christie, Obama and many others -- offered a comforting reminder that politics can be an art, cooperation across party lines is possible, and government action can prove effective in helping all of us. I am a citizen grateful for government in this nation and hopeful that what we have witnessed in a crisis moment also can become the ordinary.