Political Animal


October 29, 2012 9:31 AM You’re On Your Own When Disaster Strikes

By Ed Kilgore

A very good catch by Ryan Grim at HuffPost last night:

During a CNN debate at the height of the GOP primary, Mitt Romney was asked, in the context of the Joplin disaster and FEMA’s cash crunch, whether the agency should be shuttered so that states can individually take over responsibility for disaster response.
“Absolutely,” he said. “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. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?”
“Including disaster relief, though?” debate moderator John King asked Romney.
“We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids,” Romney replied. “It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”

So much nonsense about the role of government was uttered so often during the GOP debates that I had totally forgotten about this one. I don’t know anything about Mitt Romney’s experiences with big natural disasters when he was governor of Massachusetts, but having been through a couple during my state government days in Georgia, I can confidently say that totally devolving responsibility for emergency management and disaster relief to the states, much less the private sector, is a notion only a stone ideologue would embrace. Events like Sandy are by definition “all hands on deck” moments. The feds don’t always do the best job in these situations, but suggesting they are none of the national government’s business is the kind of policy that might have even given Barry Goldwater pause.

UPDATE: Hiram College political scientist Jason Johnson has this assessment of Romney’s brief record of emergency management in Massachusetts:

[W]hat do we know about Mitt Romney when it comes to natural disasters? Every storm is different, but you can tell a great deal about Romney by how he handled the Mother’s Day storms in Massachusetts in 2006. He tried, the results are mixed, and I don’t think there’s anyone in America who would say his inclement weather resume is Bush/Katrina bad, nor Corey Booker/Snowstorm good.

Betcha Mitt didn’t turn down FEMA and other federal government assistance on philosophical grounds.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • jjm on October 29, 2012 9:43 AM:

    Has anyone advanced the hypothesis that Romney is simply not very bright? Oh I know he's a business success, but as a millionaire friend of mine once said, "You don't HAVE to be stupid to become a millionaire, but it sure helps."

    Stupid about every thing on earth except how to squeeze a dollar out of someone else.

    Mitt has no experience really outside the business world, his church, and half running the state of MA. The Olympics he 'saved' with federal money.

  • c u n d gulag on October 29, 2012 9:48 AM:

    "...is a notion only a stone ideologue would embrace."

    Or a stone-cold sociopathic idiot.

    What profit is there for private businesses to help out anything or anyone that doesn't directly impact their bottom lines in a positive way?

    I hope the Obama campaign, and all of the Democrats running for Congress, makes this clip into a commercial.

    If Obama was white, this wouldn't even be a race.

    The only reason Mitt might win, is that there are a lot of people who, if they're not stone-cold racists, still harbor some racist tendencies, and want to see a Caucasian back in The Whitey's House.

  • sjw on October 29, 2012 9:59 AM:

    Romney is the most opportunistic, cynical, mendacious candidate to ever run for president/vice president. He blows Nixon and Palin out of the water. He's in a league of his own. And what's even scarier than the fact that he'll say anything is that he seems to believe anything: the man has no perceivable core.

    As for the Tea Party "government sucks" line, it is so patently ridiculous one wonders how people can accept it. Should we privatize fire departments? The FAA? The presidency itself? Like the now infamous sign said, "Keep the government's hands off my Medicare."

  • Celui on October 29, 2012 10:13 AM:

    I'm beginning to see this election as a reflective Greek tragedy morality play in which the morality of the nation becomes willingly and tragically compromised for a single purpose: to force a non-white president from office. One side of the play's protagonists relies on the evident, factual reality as presented to the audience, verified by actions and accounts of others, and containing the imperative to continue down the path of communal improvement and success. The opposing characters are all aligned in rows, chanting and spouting on cue the endless mendacities provided them by 'their own, personal playwrite(s)'. Their role takes on the defensive structure of a wall, designed to wall off not only the other actors, but the audience as well. As the spectacle unfolds, the chorus's roles remain static in action, but ever-increasing in volume until the voices of the protagonists are all but drowned out. Somehow, the audience is treated to a stage production in which the chorus of voices also grows in number but diminishes in size on stage (don't ask how this is done in reality; it's all an illusion, anyway; little will remain when the play finally does end). Protagonists bring on the stage new props to make their voices heard by the audience: soapboxes on which to stand, dramatic lighting and a parade of past accepted players whose voices are becoming progressively disregarded by the audience. Curiously, the play seems to have had a beginning scene, but the impassive, wall-like chorus not only remains frozen in this scene as the play continues, but the chorus attempts to thwart all efforts by 'other' actors to present their dialogues. Which set of actors will the audience identify with? What message will be accepted: the dominant droning of the mindless chorus, or the protagonists' somewhat persuasive arguments for the betterment of 'community'? As the play continues, audience members tire of the pointless presence of the mindless chorus and, unable to hear or fathom the sometimes all-too-academic arguments of the 'others', begins to nod off or get up and leave. Their role in the play becomes increasingly marginalized. The play seems never to end; the morality lesson completely effaced in the growing tragedy born of unbridled hubris. The problem? The audience, whose role in this is to hear, listen, decide, accept and/or reject is dulled to distraction. Is there a deus-ex-machina waiting in the wings? We'll see..............

  • Peter C on October 29, 2012 10:19 AM:

    The idea that disaster relief would be within the balliwick of the private sector is ludicrous! How would that work, exactly??? Private insurance already refuses to cover 'acts of God'. Perhaps we'd depend upon our Church? "Sorry, you didn't tithe, no emergency food for you!"

    And states are better suited because, what, storms and wildfires respect state boundaries??? "Pity the poor Montanans! They keep funding hurricane relief without ever needing it!"

    FEMA is Americans helping each other out when disaster strikes. It is one of great things about our SOCIETY; we help each other. FEMA's budget is relatively tiny.

    Republicans are the party of the greedy and mean-spirited.

  • Rudy Gonzales on October 29, 2012 10:25 AM:

    This is typical Capital Venture talking. Romney wants as much in private sector hands or state hands where local can totally control the money, infrastructure, schools, developements, eminent domain and other population controls. The private sector would declare bankruptcy immediately so as to not pay while compensating top CEO's and CFO's for jobs not well done. The states would compensating top CEO's and CFO's very well and limit everything they could just like they do with HMO type Medicaid. Remember Eric Cantor who wanted to not pay for the damages from the hurricane that destroyed bridges, roads and lives last summer unless the expenses were off-set in the budget. Yeah! That's another swinger in the TEA-Republican party.

  • schtick on October 29, 2012 10:30 AM:

    What do you expect from a guy that supports education in other countries but not in our own, supports welfare to rich corporations, but to people that need it, supports jobs sent to China, but not jobs for our own people?

  • TCinLA on October 29, 2012 11:31 AM:

    I'm at the point with Republicans where all I want to do is grab a Louisville Slugger and go to work on them. As my wife says, "they are bottomless" in their stupidity.

  • T2 on October 29, 2012 11:32 AM:

    somewhere, in a small room, the Romney campaign is gaming out a way to make political advantage of Sandy. The second the storm his land, John Sununu will make the rounds of Talk TV to tell us all how Obama failed to act fast enough to stop the storm.

  • Julie on October 29, 2012 11:58 AM:

    Speaking of disasters, CNBC, ever true to its ideological principles, has been connecting throughout the day to the author of the Karina disaster relief effort, former Bush administration FEMA director, Michael Brown, for his expert commentary on the unfolding Sandy story. Not surprising, though, when one considers that CNBC's everyday line-up of financial experts consists of the people responsible for bankruptcy of the financial system in 2008.

  • Anonymous on October 29, 2012 12:54 PM:

    "Private insurance already refuses to cover 'acts of God'."

    This is incorrect.
    The line "acts of God" is a little like those famous movie lines "Play it again Sam" & "Judy, Judy, Judy" - never said, often quoted.

    Some Acts of God are expensive to insure, flood cover for a house on a riverbank, but coverage is usually available.

  • bdop4 on October 29, 2012 2:10 PM:

    You can insure against "force majuere" events (floods, earthquakes, fire, etc.), but usually you have to obtain a separate policy or rider to a homeowners policy.

    I'm sure houses along the coast carry such insurance, but the impact area of this storm could extend well beyond what has been anticipated by the actuaries and hit areas not normally known to flood.

    These types of events should never be opportunities for profit, which is why abdicating federal/state responsibility to the private sector is ludicrous. This is the last circumstance to which you want to apply the profit motive.

  • revchicoucc on October 29, 2012 2:25 PM:

    During his term as Governor, Massachusetts had three federal disaster declarations, each for severe storms and flooding. This info is on the FEMA website. Around 10,000 people received $50 million in assistance.

    Private insurance does cover most losses from natural disasters. Wind, earthquake, and fire are more likey to be covered than water damage. FEMA assistance does not make people whole. If you have private insurance, you are expected to use it and in some cases, FEMA assistance is reimbursed by private insurance payments.

    There are huge public costs involved with any natural disaster. An example: debris removal. Who clears the streets of debris following a tornado? Local governments contract with private debris removal. The cost is shared by local, state, and FEMA.

    The private sector does not have the legal authority to condemn a damaged building so it can be torn down before creating a further hazard. Only a local or state government can do that.

    I worked as volunteer disaster coordinator for a region of my church for several years. I worked with wildfire, tornado, and flooding incidents. All levels of government, private insurers, and scores of charitable groups respond, and each has a specialty. FEMA provides essential coordination and financial support to individuals and local and state governments. These partnerships are well-established and, in my experience, function well.

    Mr. Romney is either ignorant or intentionally misleading the public about the public role in disaster response. Probably some of both.

  • revchicoucc on October 29, 2012 2:34 PM:

    @Peter C. I do not know of any church or charitable agency responding to a natural disaster that places a religious test of any kind on receiving assistance. I have certainly never seen it in my personal experience.

    @T2: I agree the Romney campaign is looking for some way to politicize the storm and the FEMA response. I hope they do it so ineptly it makes Mr. Romney look like the uncaring asshole he truly is.

    How's this for a potential Romney statement: "We've had enough of these natural disasters under Obama -- Obamasasters need to stop! On my very first day in office, I'll issue an executive order declaring emergencies unconstitutional, just like the Founders intended. It's time we returned to the values of self-sufficiency that made this country great!"