As I write this, Mitt Romney is 179 miles away from me, attending a rally in Lynchburg, Va. Joe Biden is even closer, just down Route 7 in Sterling, hosting his own campaign event. Barack Obama is on his way from Madison, Wis. to Columbus, Ohio. Paul Ryan’s in Colorado. All four candidates will spend today hip-hopping from rally to rally in a total of eight battleground states. At these events the candidates will fire up supporters, cheer on their get-out-the-vote crews, and maybe land a mention on the local news. They won’t, their handlers fervently hope, make any real news. And it’s hard to imagine that, for all their frantic speech-giving and baby-kissing today, they’ll change the minds of more than a handful of voters.
You know where the candidates won’t be today or tomorrow? The places that could really use their visit: the areas of New York and New Jersey hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. There, gas shortages, continued power outages, and an oncoming nor’easter bedevil millions of Americans. Imagine if one or the other of the presidential candidates scrapped his plans for the rest of the day. What if Mitt Romney loaded up his campaign jet with contractor bags and batteries, flew to JFK, and spent the day on Staten Island cleaning up the debris-covered streets? What if Barack Obama hung out in Hoboken, N.J. handing out blankets to the needy? Or, if they’re afraid their entourages might do more harm than good, what if they both suspended all advertising until Election Day and sent that money to the Red Cross instead?
It would accomplish a number of things. First of all, the visuals would be inspiring. I expect donations to organizations and communities in need would skyrocket in the wake of such a visit. Americans would be inspired to volunteer, to chip in, and to do their part.
Second, it would help put things in perspective. It would highlight that even at this politically charged moment, there are things more important than elections, or spending tens of thousands of dollars on crowd control, placards, security, and advertising just so your campaign can get its 20th touch of an undecided in Ohio.
Lastly—and most pragmatically—think about this. If you were an undecided voter, what would be more likely to sway you toward a candidate: Yet another stump speech, or a picture in tomorrow’s newspaper of one of the candidates mucking out a house in the Rockaways? As the curtain closes behind you in the voting booth, you’re looking for one last reason to pick one guy over the other. It’s hard to think of a message more inspiring than: This guy cares more about Americans than about campaigns as usual. Wouldn’t you pull the lever for that guy?
I know this idea is naïve. I don’t expect either campaign to seize on this notion—to respond to what I hope might be an outpouring of support for the idea on Twitter for #CandidatesHelp, or to calls in the media that I wish would be at least as loud as the gripes about the New York City Marathon were last week. It’s a real shame. Today the candidates are wasting time and energy scrambling for votes. Tomorrow they’re sitting in Chicago and Boston watching TV. Why not do something good for the world—and good for your campaign—instead? Why not help?