Hurricane Sandy may have interrupted the home stretch of our presidential campaign, but it illustrated the implications of our choice quite well. President Obama champions a 'we are all in this together' philosophy over a 'we are all on our own' philosophy. Mitt Romney called disaster relief 'immoral' during the Republican primaries.
Romney has of course backtracked from such an extreme position. But taking that position during the primary shows how libertarian the Republican Party has become. It is not very controversial to suggest that disaster relief is an appropriate role for government. Citizens across the political spectrum will agree that we have an obligation to help fellow citizens harmed by circumstances beyond their control. When citizens lose a home or access to electricity simply because they happen live in the path of a terrible storm, we say 'there but by the grace of God go I" and reach out to help.
The key difference between our parties is the extent to which they recognize how often others are harmed by circumstances beyond their control, apply the "grace of God" principle, and advocate public policies that support our vulnerable citizens. Many of our political debates hinge on how and when to apply the "grace of God" principle.
Some of us, through circumstances beyond our control, get sick and then lose health insurance due to 'pre-existing conditions.' Health care bills are the number one cause of personal bankruptcy today. Do we have an obligation toward those citizens? Republican vows to repeal Obamacare. Their worship of the free market boils down to 'we are all on our own.'
Some of us, through no fault of our own, are impregnated through rape or incest. Do we have an obligation to support women in those situations and provide them with health care choices? The Republican Party platform denies such a choice - it tells women not only that they are on their own, but now they are on their own with an unwanted child that will be a daily reminder of a horrible event in their life.
Some of us, due to circumstances beyond our control, go to a poorly funded, under-performing school. Do we have an obligation to ensure that all of us receive a decent education? A 'we are all in this together' approach requires that we improve our public schools. The Republican 'we are all on our own' approach - vouchers, school choice, charter schools - siphons funds away from public schools, perhaps gives some opportunities to a fortunate few, and enables private actors to profit from public education.
Some of us, through no fault of our own, had parents who brought us into this country illegally as children. Do we have an obligation to those who have gone to school, paid taxes, committed no crimes? Should we support legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship? The Democrats extend the "grace of God" principle in this situation and advocates the Dream Act, and the Republicans do not.
Some of us, due to circumstances beyond our control, had their jobs shipped overseas. Do we have an obligation to advocate public policies to offer additional education, retrain workers, and alter incentives to encourage domestic manufacturing? Are we all in this together, or are those workers on their own?
Some of us, through no fault of our own, are born gay. Do we have an obligation to extend the same rights to gay citizens as to all other citizens? Opposition to gay marriage puts an unfortunate twist to the philosophy of 'you are all on your own.'
The list goes on. Medicare for all seniors or a voucher system? Food safety inspections and rules against predatory lending or let the buyer beware? Affordable student loan programs or "borrow from your parents"? The pattern is clear. The philosophies are distinct. We should prefer a world in which we have empathy for others and apply the "grace of God" principle in our public policy.
Hurricane Sandy reminds us that ultimately this is our only option. We do not live in a world where we lead autonomous, independent lives. We do not have control over our own lives. Our personal choices do not determine our destiny. Someimes - perhaps quite often - our lives are driven by circumstances beyond our control. We are interconnected - to our fellow citizens, to others around the world, and even to nature. We really are all in this together. It only makes sense to have a public policy that reflects this reality of contemporary life.