The collision of Hurricane Sandy and the national presidential election is literally the perfect storm, reminiscent of the Gordon Lightfoot classic called the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and when the “Gales of November came early.”

The infamous shipwreck may metaphorically link one of the meanest battles for the Oval Office with one of the most fiery storms to make landfall in the Northeastern United States: The hurricane is encapsulating the candidates’ management styles and their energy-related philosophies. Indeed, Mother Nature is defining the 2012 presidential contest just as Gordon Lightfoot adeptly characterized “The Wreck” in 1976.

Neither candidate is trying to politicize the hurricane. But the event may produce long-lasting policy implications -- from climate change to insurance underwriting to direct federal payouts. And while those discussions are occurring now and will continue forward, the storm is giving the public a view of how President Obama is managing a major crisis compared with how Mitt Romney would do so.

There’s no right or wrong here: A calm, collected and compassionate Obama is seen assuring those who have lost property that the Federal Energy Management Agency is coming. That is in direct contrast to what the GOP-hopeful is on record saying, which is that such crises are best left to the states or ideally, to the private sector.

“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction,” Romney said in 2011, noting that decreasing the size of the federal debt is the most important thing here. “And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

The question then becomes whether such a response is adequate in the case of a major hurricane or earthquake -- or whatever Mother Nature is tossing our way. Romney’s campaign has since clarified his comments, noting that he would not abolish the federal assistance program but would insist that the states become the first-responders.

Weather Intensity

Obama’s position, conversely, is that the states that have been hardest hit are currently starry-eyed and that they now need national help. Either way, though, it’s an exercise in how each candidate would pull government’s levers and how they would weigh the human factor against the budgetary boundaries.

Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught is also drawing a clear distinction between the two challengers over climate change. Severe weather disturbances are more frequent and they are causing greater damages. Most scientists are saying that this is a function of increased heat-trapping pollutants caused by power plants and other industrial businesses. A smaller number say that such weather is part of a cyclical pattern and that it is not a man-made problem.

Here again, Obama’s course of action has been to allocate federal dollars to new technologies that have the potential to cut pollutants. It has also been to give his Environmental Protection Agency the leeway to set rules for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. By contrast, Romney would reduce such “speculative” funding while rolling back environmental regulations to give free markets more reign.

“Mainstream anti-climate change activists are proposing nothing less than the establishment of global weather control through energy rationing, regulations, and taxes, all managed by a global bureaucracy ...” writes Ken Green, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

But as this journalist has previously written, any prudent business person must consider “what if” and construct models using a variety of scenarios. While the environmentalists are criticized for wanting to bet the farm, it would be just as imprudent to ignore completely any “worst case”possibilities. Just ask those jurisdictions that have skimped on water protections and building standards.

In 2011,14 major weather events occurred costing at least $1 billion each, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Sandy alone is expected to run $20 billion. Droughts, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, thunderstorms and wildfires have affected just about every state. 

Munich Re, which assumes risks from primary insurers so as to minimize their potential losses, says that North America has experienced a nearly five-fold increase in extreme weather patterns over 30 years. Some have said that this is the face of climate change while others are adamant that it is all part of a natural pattern.

“We must choose where to invest our risk reduction resources, and we must do so wisely, or we will inevitably find ourselves living in a riskier world than we might otherwise,” says Peter Roder, member of the Munich Re Board of Management responsible for North American business, in a recent company publication.

The insurer says that climate change is a culprit that cannot be ignored, affecting the formation and intensity of heat waves, droughts and thunderstorms: In the Gulf of Mexico alone, there’s been a 35 percent increase in the size of storms since 1995. It adds that when “global warming combines with natural weather cycles,” it exacerbates the perils and the insured losses.

As the various chapters to the 2012 presidential race are written, it will be said that Hurricane Sandy served to crystalize the candidates’ positions. It is distinguishing how they would manage crises and how they would exercise government’s controls. One event, in essence, has spoken louder than a thousand speeches.

For all practical purposes, the “Gales of November” have come early, giving Americans a better picture of how Obama and Romney would govern as president of the United States. 

EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been honored as one of MIN’s Most Intriguing People in Media.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein