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Editor's Weekly: Sandy provides a reality check on political rhetoric

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 2, 2012 - Dear Beaconites - The manufactured sound and fury of the political campaign paled this week in comparison to the actual sound and fury of Super Storm Sandy. Campaigns, however important their consequences may be, are essentially exercises in perception. Sandy delivered a body blow of reality to those in its path and to our political discourse.

Much of the debate in the 2012 campaign has been about the appropriate role of the federal government. A natural disaster that batters several states casts that debate in a different light. Ideology takes a back seat while officials and volunteers work together to meet the challenge.

Few would doubt that government must play an essential role in a major relief effort. And few would question the importance of private initiative at every level, from giant organizations such as the Red Cross to neighbors helping neighbors. When a threat is immediate and obvious, so is the need for an all-hands effort.

But when a national challenge emerges gradually and with greater complexity -- think job creation, health care and so forth -- finding the appropriate blend of government and private action can be equally complex. Even candidates who embrace a less-is-more approach to government must eventually grapple with the question of how much less. Even those disposed toward government action must be wary of inefficiency and expense.

In fact, reality presents voters and office holders with choices that are less ideologically pure than typical political rhetoric. Through this long campaign, the Beacon has worked to arm you with information and insight so you can decide your vote based on more than that rhetoric. As you prepare to go to the polls, we hope you'll use this coverage as a reality check. We've organized a quick guide that points you to candidate profiles, issue analyses, campaign finance investigations and more.

You can also check Beyond November, a collaboration that includes reporting by the Beacon, St. Louis Public Radio and the Nine Network. The Beyond November Voters Guide will give you information customized for your ballot.

Apart from the election, the Beacon this week added depth and context on two controversies involving men who have helped shape the face of St. Louis -- History Museum president Robert Archibald and Saint Louis University president Lawrence Biondi.

A Zoo Museum District audit and reporting by the Post-Dispatch has raised questions about a land deal Archibald arranged and about his compensation. These are important questions, and Beacon reporting by Dale Singer, Jason Rosenbaum and Charlene Prost focused on actions to revamp Archibald's contract and clarify which museum-related board oversees what.

Their reporting also brought to light context that has been largely missing from recent discussion. This includes the long-term record of the History Museum, which has been transformed under Archibald's leadership from an archive to an active participant in community discussion, an institution that seeks to reach across race, class and other barriers.

The Beacon also reported the organizational details that explain why the museum, founded as a private institution, has a somewhat different relationship with the Zoo Museum District than public institutions such as the Zoo.

I want to be straightforward here in noting that the Beacon worked in partnership with the History Museum on our Race, Frankly project and other endeavors. Despite this, we have tried to report the recent controversies and relevant context without fear or favor, including attention to Archibald's critics and his achievements.

Also this week, Dale reported on extraordinary developments at Saint Louis University, where the Faculty Senate asked the trustees to fire Biondi. SLU's powerful president has been credited with building the university as a major midtown presence but criticized as overbearing. Now the simmering criticism has boiled over. We'll continue to report on how the dispute plays out.

Check the Beacon for developments in coming weeks. And remember to check the Beacon election night as results roll in.

Sincerely,

Margie

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