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Getting mean-spirited about the weather

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It is the cheapest of cheap shots to dump on public officials who, in full better-safe-than-sorry mode, make decisions about how to respond to predicted adverse weather conditions based on word relayed by forecasters. Politician types, the media and others who jump all over a sequence like we experienced recently in New York City, when blizzard conditions we were prepared for didn’t quite materialize, are flat-out intent only on exploiting the possibilities they see in such situations for ridicule and general bad-mouthing aimed at whoever is on the hot seat. It’s tawdry stuff.

For some reason, elected officials being seen as not adequately meeting the challenge of a weather episode tends to be enticing fodder for the media, to say nothing of the political capital various and sundry opportunists look to derive from it. A substantial snowstorm that hit the city in 1969 turned into a bête noir in the political fortunes of then mayor John Lindsay, because of sections of Queens that allegedly got ignored in the cleanup. Last year, Mayor de Blasio found himself with a first-year snow story “blessing” when the slow pace of snow removal in parts of Upper Manhattan produced the customary flood of irate residents, the media of course along to vent the frustrations.

In those and other instances of perceived after-the-fact governmental inadequacy, a mayor, governor or whose ever call it was cannot escape blame if the response fails to proceed as smoothly as it should (reminiscent of George Bush’s dumbfounding thumbs-up to “Brownie” in the midst of what looked like major operational dysfunction to the lot of us during Hurricane Katrtina). Taking accurate measure of a calamitous episode during or after its occurrence is an important barometer of leadership competence. But no way is this comparable to an official acting out of an abundance of caution in a judgment call about what critics are quick to characterize as leadership failure, when events unfold less ominously than was feared.

This, sadly, is a behavioral norm we have come to expect from certain quarters. And when on Jan. 26 and even earlier, we were told in New York to brace for a whopper of a winter storm that, to our relief didn’t do to us what it did to Eastern Long Island and elsewhere, the stage was set for the regular flamethrowers to spring into action. How smart was it to ban non-essential vehicles from the roadways, to shut down public transportation, to close schools, etc? The Monday morning quarterbacking was off and running at a fast clip, as we knew it would. We have, unavoidably, folks in the media establishment who, faced with a choice of a “New York Spared” or “What Blizzard?” headline driving the story of our recent weather dance, would invariably go for the latter. And there’s never a shortage of budding, blooming or just plain boisterous political opportunists to sign on to a sentiment geared for scandal.

This notion of blaming an elected official for what Nature does or doesn’t lavish on us mortals is so nuts, you wonder if those who engage in the wildness have any capacity at all for thinking through the kick they’re on. The official is guided in how to prepare for a weather event by what weather forecasters are saying. If forecasters at times turn out to be somewhat off the mark and the official is consequently not as on top of things as one might prefer, there is but one conclusion that can be deduced from detractors’ criticism: that the official ought be better at projecting weather patterns than designated experts. And how bizarre is that!

In the case of Mayor de Blasio, there’s no question but that unabashed identification of himself as embarked on a progressive agenda would make the Jan. 26-27 weather episode more grist for the mill among elements who show up nowhere near the mayor on the ideological spectrum. One could pretty well guarantee, for instance, that the city’s foremost clown, insufferable Donald Trump, who commented that President Obama would use the city’s storm emergency to declare martial law here, would have nothing complimentary to offer about Mayor de Blasio’s blizzard warning not panning out.

For his part, de Blasio would likely respond no differently if confronted with a similar weather scenario down the road, with the pot shot takers doing their customary thing also. But a controversy now bubbling up seems relative — about some folks on the right making a ruckus regarding the vaccination of kids. If, as we suspect, it is also primarily from the right that we get the carping crowd, ready to lambast a public official whose reliance on forecasters turns problematic, is a dis of science what this is all about? The right, with its myriad conspiracy-theory fringe groups, wouldn’t be trying to tell us that like medical science with its vaccines, weather science is also expendable, would they?

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