CHICAGO -- Some lucky star was blinking over me in the unbelievable hours that a strangely tepid full moon was hanging languidly over the East Coast this week. By chance, I was in my hometown of Chicago when -- of all things! -- a tropical hurricane savaged the Northeast and brought acres of January snow to West Virginia in October.
As Mitt Romney said perceptively on one of his campaign stops during the storm, "I don't think there has been a hurricane in Ohio in a long time."
For me, as much as I hate to say it, these last few days have been lovely. I could lie in my bed in the wonderful old Drake Hotel on Lake Michigan and hear the rough, but soothing breaking of the waves on the beaches out front. Of course, I worried about my apartment in Washington, and particularly about my cat, Yankee, a white Maine Coon, but my superb assistant of 32 years, Rita, was there, so I knew all would be well.
As for the rest of the country, the immediate results of the 1,000-mile-wide hurricane that slipped up on us from the Caribbean were described in extraordinary terms. It was "the single largest storm in memory." It was the "Mother of all October surprises." In the New York subway, used by 8.5 million people a day, "the devastation is historic."
But the more I thought about it -- blessed by distance, so that any immediate distorting fear could be taken out of the equation -- the more strongly I felt that (1) we are seeing something dangerously new here, and (2) that if we are, then Barack Obama would be the presidential candidate to best deal with the next four years.
Think about it this way: America's No. 1 blessing -- even greater than the Protestant ethic of its original English and Dutch settlers and their attitudes toward sharing the benefits of free work with their fellow citizens -- is its sheer isolation from the rest of this troubled and troubling world. Other countries had forests or mountains or fortified walls and castles to separate themselves; America has two vast oceans. Other countries swept out to try to colonize and rob (big-time) the rest of the world; the United States put into place trading agreements that helped everybody. Well, almost.
But in an age of drone warfare and cyber-insecurity, when terrorists worldwide are learning our propensities and hurricanes turn left at Key Largo instead of right, America has little security anymore from those oceans.
Strangely enough, at this moment of my own foraging for light under the darkness of the wind and waves, a brilliant American scientist, Peter G. Neumann, was profiled in The New York Times, where colleagues noted that he had warned all his 80-year life that computer "security" would be dangerous, as it is now being found to be. Why? Not because of one failure, but because of the way many different pieces interact. Complex systems break in complex ways, and thus, today it is virtually impossible to identify the flaws in computer systems. We are now one humongous complex system, our country.
If this is, at least partially what we are seeing in the "Monster Storm," where everything seems wrong according to our rules, then there is little question that President Barack Obama should be elected to deal with these pivotal next four years.
Everything Obama stands for involves understanding the changes sweeping the world: environmental issues, training for service jobs, drone and commando warfare, the computerization of doctors' records, now perhaps even the changes in weather being wrought by man's behavior. Some of what he wants doesn't seem to work at all, but at least he is working in the new languages of planet sustainability, of going to Mars and beyond, of new systems and structures in health care, education and more.
Mitt Romney is a good man, though one has reason to doubt that he is an honest man. He is a man who should have on his tombstone, "He said he could create jobs," while at the same time his guys -- the billionaire financiers -- hold $1.7 trillion in uninvested cash. THEY could "create jobs," if they'd take a little risk. Romney also wants to abolish FEMA, without which tens of thousands of storm victims would be doubly damaged.