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Steinberg: Ultimate political spin roars to shore

A jet skier takes advantage building surf from approaching Hurricane Sandy Coney Islbeach New York Sunday Oct. 28 2012. Areas

A jet skier takes advantage of building surf from approaching Hurricane Sandy at Coney Island beach in New York Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. Areas along the Northeast Coast were seeing the effects of the hurricane and preparing for a possible flooding storm surge. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

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Updated: November 30, 2012 6:23AM

If a meteor were expected to destroy Earth later today, my guess is we’d spend our last few precious hours caught up in debate over how the planet’s complete obliteration might affect next week’s presidential election.

While Hurricane Sandy isn’t on par with global cataclysm, it’s still a massive, monstrous, historic hurricane bearing down on the most populated region of the United States. You’d think questions would be limited to “How much damage will be caused?” and “What precautions should be taken?” While there is some talk of that, focus keeps circling back to what the storm will mean for the election, another sign of just how spin-dizzy the public has become.

Or maybe it’s just the media’s fault. The public is lining up to buy batteries and Little Debbie cakes, and we’re yammering politics.

Will it be a pro-Republican hurricane, revealing the administration’s ineptness? Or a pro-Democratic hurricane, reminding everyone of Bush’s wan response to Katrina in 2005?

Before Sandy’s first breeze crossed our coast, a whirling vortex of spin was already scouring the land.

“So the question is, is this a geo-engineered October surprise?” intoned David Knight on the daft-but-slick Info Wars Nightly News, showing a drawing of a grinning Obama sitting before a weather map, working storms with a joystick as if he were playing a video game. “Weather modification is a known fact,” he continues, racing through some palaver about seeding clouds and U.N. resolutions on weather as weapons before concluding: “So although governments have agreed not to use weather as a weapon, and they’ve been working on it for over 40 years, I’m sure that the timing of this storm is just a coincidence.”

That last sentence is meant to be ironic, driven home by gazing meaningfully into the camera and twisting his face into a knowing half smirk. The truth is out there, people.

Lest I be accused of focusing on Right Wing idiocy — always a temptation, there’s so much of it — to be fair, Democrats are puffing away too. On the Daily Kos, Sandy is a pretext for cutbacks on weather satellite technology to be bemoaned. “Austerity zombies who scream about the deficit and the need to cut entitlements so that the 1 percent can have bigger tax cuts, have imperiled the funding of weather satellites.”

Actually, years of mismanagement, not blind cutbacks, have gutted our satellite program. But the gales of partisanship blow away all nuance.

“This is what happens when you slash budgets in the name of austerity,” Kos continues, overlooking the fact that the storm has been carefully followed ever since it was a mere Sno-Cone of agitated air far out to sea and increasingly grim warnings have been echoing for days. Whatever will unfold, we aren’t being caught off guard. Indeed, the National Guard has been readied in nine states, New York City is shutting down the subway, thousands are evacuating.

The National Weather Service map Sunday bathed the entire Eastern seaboard in red — hurricane warning — from the Florida Keys to the coast of Maine. And tossed out adjectives like “dangerous,” “sprawling,” “damaging” and “life-threatening.” It might be the worst hurricane ever to hit the United States. Even Lake Michigan, hundreds of miles away, can expect winds up to 60 mph pushing waves to 15 to 25 feet.

Fretting over how all this will affect the election is like worrying how your house being on fire will lower its resale value — a valid concern, sure, but wouldn’t you rather concentrate on calling the fire department?

Then again, it’s human nature for people to passionately want to blunder forward, to pretend everything’s normal, that any disaster is just a momentary impediment to Business as Usual. To be honest, even though I don’t feel like parsing Sandy’s effect on the election — it’s a week from tomorrow, we don’t have to speculate, we can just wait — I find myself sincerely worrying about all those children whose Halloweens might get scuttled. Halloween is a huge deal to kids, and weather does have a way of wrecking it. Usually it’s not hurricanes but rain or cold that undercuts Halloween. I clearly remember the startled moral outrage when my mother insisted that I cover my scary costume — Frankenstein — with a brown corduroy Mighty Mac winter coat. Completely thwarting its terrifying effect! I can’t help but thinking off all these poor kids curled on cots in shelters reflecting miserably, not on their lost homes and towns but on all the candy they’re not getting. I hope the Red Cross stocks up on mini Butterfingers.

Radio note: Assuming programming doesn’t shift to the East Coast being swept out to sea — that isn’t supposed to happen until nightfall — Rick Kogan and I will be talking about my new book, “You Were Never in Chicago,” between 3:30 and 4 p.m. Monday on WBEZ, 91.5 FM.

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