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November 19, 2012

Zombies invade. Who do you want for president?

And so we are finally here, and not a moment too soon. Every insult has been hurled, every fact misrepresented; positions have been shifted and ventilated and dissected and caricatured.

We know, more or less (less, in the case of one candidate) where the next president will come down on critical issues such as health care, taxation, deficit spending and Iran.

But there is one question — a question of surpassing, even existential importance — that was the subject of not a single debate question or policy paper: Which candidate, Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, would be better equipped to save civilization in the face of a global zombie uprising?

The mother of all 3 a.m. phone calls would begin like this: "Mr. President, very sorry to wake you, but it seems that a devastating pathogen has reanimated the dead and turned them into cannibals, and now they're feasting on the living, especially in the swing states of Ohio and Virginia. Would you like me to assemble those members of the Cabinet who aren't eating their deputies?"

A zombie invasion, although a low-probability event (only for the technical reason that zombies don't exist) represents, in the words of Daniel W. Drezner, the author of "Theories of International Politics and Zombies" and a Tufts University professor, "the perfect, protean 21st century threat — it's terrorism and biowarfare and pandemic rolled into one."

Drezner argues that zombies are a prism through which we can understand how governments react to supreme emergencies — of obvious relevance in an era when disaster seems to be visiting us with great frequency.

Zombies never seem to exhaust themselves as a subject of horror movies and fright literature. From time to time, popular interest wanes, but then along comes an attack like that of Sept. 11, or a dire recession, or a Hurricane Sandy, and people begin to contemplate the fragility of civilization and the limitations of government — just ask the people of Long Island and the Jersey Shore. As Drezner says, zombie movies and comics and television shows aren't actually about zombies: "What they're about is how humans react to the threat of zombies."

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