UPDATE 4pm CST 11/1/12: In this piece, I made mention of Gov. Christie's very public praise of the President's management of the disaster response. The GOP has begun to savage him for it. That didn't take long.
Chait puts it best:
"What you are going to see over the next week is an overt effort by Democrats to politicize the issue of disaster response. They're right to do it. Conservatives are already complaining about this, but the attempt to wall disaster response off from politics in the aftermath of a disaster is an attempt to insulate Republicans from the consequences of their policies."The GOP has directly targeted our national disaster response mechanisms, having gone so far as to threaten a total government shutdown last year while seeking a nearly forty percent cut to first responders. The outright elimination of FEMA has become a central position among the party's leadership.
For decades, FEMA has been a target of the fringe right and left. As far back as the 1980s, the radical left was awash with allegations that the government had some secret plan to use the agency for mass detentions and concentration camps. This chatter gained a bit more traction as the Iran-Contra scandal unfolded and then, as most dimly plausible notions that never actually materialize do, it dissipated. After Clinton was elected to the Presidency, the same charges were revived by those on the right who were also trafficking in theories that black helicopters were coming to get us any minute and secret codes were on the backs of road signs meant to guide the U.N. in a takeover of the country.
All the while, FEMA performed its basic functions and did a relatively decent job of managing the aftermath of the hurricanes, tornadoes and floods that reliably challenge our complex, organized society every year.
Then Katrina happened and all that changed. The notion of FEMA as "bad government" moved from a paranoid, outlying position to the mainstream of Republican politics. The reason is simple; their party mishandled the response to that event so stunningly that it became an international outrage.
"...the reason it screwed that up is that the president at the time didn't give a crap about the agency and put a guy in charge of it who had no business whatsoever being in that position. And so, logically enough, they screwed it up, and tragically."This is what happens when ideologues who don't believe in government in the first place are given the burden of running part of our government. They're no good at it. When they're no good at it, there can be real and devastating human costs.
Over the last few years, the GOP's general stance against FEMA has risen to the level of party orthodoxy. Since the ascension of the reactionary and obstructionist 112th congress, their leaders have grown so bold as to actually delay funding for desperately needed action (More HERE, HERE and HERE) and their nominee for the Presidency this year has not only joined the chorus in favor of FEMA's total dismantlement, but has declared that emergency borrowing for disaster relief is "immoral" on general principle.
Enter Hurricane Sandy.
Putting aside the fact that this freakish, killer storm is very probably not going to be the last and that the reasons for that are barely on the political radar, Sandy is providing us a teachable moment on Mitt Romney the "public executive."
But it was something altogether more alarming than simply the latest instance of Romney completely reversing himself or exposing, yet again, his general lack of empathy. We didn't just see a candidate making a feeble attempt to exploit a natural disaster. We also saw that the GOP nominee, a man we are told has the "experience" we need and the ability to deal with just these kinds of crises, doesn't actually understand the basic functioning of the private sector first responders to whom he proposes we should give sole responsibility.
As a general rule, unsolicited donations tax the limited resources of organizations like the Red Cross and dilute their manpower and their effectiveness. They don't need canned goods and blankets. They need blood and money.
The cynical, partial transformation of an already planned campaign event into a "relief donation" photo-op revealed that Mitt Romney just doesn't know what he is doing.
As we watched New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie not only put party politics aside, but openly rebuff them on Fox, we saw Mitt Romney totally exposed as a hack and a buffoon.
It could have been different.
With the vast media resources at his disposal and the huge team he had to work with, Romney could have soberly issued a call for Americans to pull together and donate appropriately and in the manner requested by the agencies that now desperately need support. He could have had a spot ready by prime time. That could have actually made a difference. But it seems not to have even occurred to him that that is what leadership is; To motivate, if not actually organize.
Had he genuinely put aside his partisan yearnings, it would have been Presidential in and of itself.
He couldn't. At his core, he does not possess the judgement to do such a thing.
At last, Hurricane Sandy reveals an ugly irony; the only thing Mitt Romney might have been good for would have been cutting a big, fat check. It's arguably the only thing he is actually knowledgeable enough and qualified enough to do at this time.
However, because he's running for office, he couldn't even do that.
Instead, he's sending a truck full of soup.