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June 15, 2011 12:40 PM Romney backs Cantor line on natural disasters

By Steve Benen

There’s been at least some discussion over the last month about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his caucus’ new line on emergency disaster aid. Whereas federal policymakers have always acted to bring relief to hard-hit communities, Republicans now believe victims can receive aid, but only if the relief funds are offset by budget cuts elsewhere.

There are some in the GOP, even at the national level, who’ve criticized this callous approach, so I was glad to see the subject come up during Tuesday night’s debate. Mitt Romney (R) initially made the case that federal disaster programs should be sent to the states or sent “back to the private sector.”

Pressed further about whether such principles should be applied to disaster relief, the former governor added, “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts.”

So, in the mind of Mitt Romney, it’s morally justifiable for the federal government to ignore American communities ravaged by a natural disaster, because the debt is more important.

Jay Bookman explained that states can’t afford to tackle such a burden on their own — “A state suffering destruction on such a scale cannot be told to suck it up and pull itself up by its own bootstraps,” he said — and that the very idea is at odds with who we are.

After all, it is moments such as these that put the “United” in the United States. We are not self-contained human units each out to maximize individual wealth and consumption; we are Americans, and we help each other out. The notion that disaster relief is among “those things we’ve got to stop doing” is nonsense, and to base that suggestion on grounds of morality, as Romney does, boggles the mind.

[W]e are the richest nation the world has ever known. The concept that “we cannot afford to do those things” — “those things” being assisting our fellow Americans in a time when they have lost everything as a result of natural disaster — is unacceptable.

I’m not sure what Romney was thinking in those remarks. I suspect, however, that this is what happens when a party becomes so trapped in its rhetoric that it no longer recognizes rational bounds or even basic compassion.

I wholeheartedly agree with all of this, but I wanted to stress one other related point. Romney, when asked about disaster responses, immediately stressed, “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.”

I mention this because it gets to the heart of why we even have a government in the first place. A community devastated by a tornado or a hurricane can’t afford to hire a business to come bring locals rescue equipment, cots, and bottled water. For that matter, it’s the sort of thing the private sector shies away from because there’s no profit in it.

On the list of things Americans can and should expect from the federal government, “disaster relief” should be one of the few responsibilities that the left and right can endorse enthusiastically. It’s something people can’t do for themselves and can’t wait for the invisible hand of the free market to address, not to mention the fact that private enterprise doesn’t even want to enter this “market.”

Romney’s bizarre comments during the debate weren’t just morally bankrupt, they reflect a striking confusion that should call his competence into question forevermore.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • slappy magoo on June 15, 2011 12:48 PM:

    Republicans are getting away with this as a talking point, because no Democrat or media outlet is doing enough to shame them as they should.

  • Today's R on June 15, 2011 12:56 PM:

    It IS immoral to help people hit by disasters!

    But it is morally compulsory to add to the debt (THINK OF THE CHILDREN!) to give tax cuts to billionaires.

    But it is morally compulsory to add to the debt to buy another jet fighter.

  • Brenna on June 15, 2011 12:58 PM:

    I was actually surprised this comment didn't get more coverage. I hope it does though.

    Mormons are known for their sense of community and taking care of each other. This just makes me much more suspicious of the fake Romney really is.

  • j on June 15, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Do you expect any better from Romney AKA
    Job Killer Romney.

  • JoyceH on June 15, 2011 1:05 PM:

    I find that 'we can't afford it' line SO offensive! Whenever you see news coverage of a natural disaster, it might be in the most dirt-poor nation on earth, but the government is there digging out the survivors and setting up shelters and medical clinics. The idea that the government of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA shouldn't do for its citizens the same basic rescue and relief efforts that the poorest nations in the world provide is just outrageous.

  • foghorn on June 15, 2011 1:10 PM:

    If the democratic party cannot capitalize on this grotesque, sick, unamerican (not to mention anti-christian)thinking it will be because they are not trying.

  • exlibra on June 15, 2011 1:11 PM:

    You can't expect compassion, or even imagination (how would I feel, if it were my house that got swept away?), from a psychopath who'd strap his dog to the roof of the car for a cross-country trip. Nor is it surprising that he'd try to dress up his pathology in the terms of morality; after all, GOP is supposed to be the party of God and Family Values, no? And Mittens is pretending to be just another average GOPhole.

    "direope throughout". Indeed. A dire dope through and through.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on June 15, 2011 1:16 PM:

    Is there anything Pres. Bartlett didn't handle?

    There are times when we're fifty states and there are times when we're one country, and have national needs. And the way I know this is that Florida didn't fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights.

    (Game On, Season 4, The West Wing)

  • KurtRex1453 on June 15, 2011 1:19 PM:

    MIitt Romney, voice of the plutocracy, another reason to raise.taxes on the uber rich.

  • Ron Byers on June 15, 2011 1:22 PM:

    Wheh I first heard Cantor's comment I thought he was talking out of his ass. I meantioned his comment to some nice libertarians with connections to Joplin and was told I am a small sick man for trying to politicize a disater, but now Romney has come to the same conclusion, I have to wonder if anybody has done a poll? Any polls Steve?

  • Ron Byers on June 15, 2011 1:26 PM:

    "If the democratic party cannot capitalize on this grotesque, sick, unamerican (not to mention anti-christian)thinking it will be because they are not trying."

    Foghorn, the democratic party won't try. Debbie Schultz is too busy kicking Anthony Weiner while he is down.

  • Mitch on June 15, 2011 1:29 PM:

    "We are not self-contained human units each out to maximize individual wealth and consumption"

    Mr. Bookman apparently does not know many conservatives; most of who do feel that we are self-contained and that individual wealth is the only goal worth pursuing. This view is not limited to the super-rich. The poorest of the poor in, say, Bible Belt America believe EXACTLY this. We're "rugged individualists" and we don't need "big government" and we certainly don't need "handouts" . . . I hear it from my family in Kentucky all of the time, even though many of them have NEVER lived without some sort of assistance from Uncle Sam.

    We are not the nation who pulled itself out of the Great Depression; we are not the nation that led the world to victory over the Axis in WWII. Not anymore.

    And I doubt that we will ever be that nation again, given the sorry state of education, the common lack of knowledge about (and interest in) history and the fact that most of our government officials (D's and R's both) seem intent on appeasing oligarchs and plutocrats instead of helping the common citizen.

    And the common citizen doesn't want to help their peers because we've grown obsessed with hating those who are different from us. We seem to reject the concept of the common good.

    These negative aspects of humanity have always existed and always will. Unfortunately it seems that today there is no force capable of fighting against them.

  • foghorn on June 15, 2011 1:33 PM:

    Ron, I know. Sad, sad, sad.

  • martin on June 15, 2011 1:33 PM:

    All you had to do was read the comments section in the papers down here after the tornados to know the Repub/Cantor/Romney line is alive and prospering in some sections of the community. "Don't they have insurance? And if not, why should I help them?"

    It's a sick, sad world.

  • Sue on June 15, 2011 1:47 PM:

    There is something really wrong with Romney.

    He doesn't seem to connect with people at all. He knows he should--but all of his instincts are off or missing. You can see it in his inappropriate use of humor. He just doesn't get it. He tries, and misses every time.

    Yes, it is a general GOP problem with a sick ideology. But Romney is just incapable of understanding what could be wrong with it. I wonder if he's a well-compensated sociopath--able to function more or less normally, able to fake responses, but lacking in empathy and conscience. Some of the GOP either hold back on this kind of rhetoric or look at least a bit embarrassed about it, but Romney has to be told what to feel.

    I expect him to walk it back when his staff sees what it might do to him.

  • Trollop on June 15, 2011 1:52 PM:

    UFB, Romney takes his cue from Cantor who takes his cues from inexperience, heartlessness and pandering to the wealthy for personal advancement.

    These are your leaders GOP?
    Really?!

  • Barbara on June 15, 2011 1:52 PM:

    The 30 second ads that could run in Missouri, Iowa and Arizona on this point are just too yummy. Seeing Romney being forced to justify this position in any of those states would be even sweeter. Now that he is on record, he will either have to reinforce his heartlessness or reinforce his tendency to say anything to anybody to get elected.

    Yes, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz should learn to shut up about fellow Dems and train her sights where she can do good.

  • ComradeAnon on June 15, 2011 1:53 PM:

    "And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Send the bill to Bain Capital.

  • tamiasmin on June 15, 2011 2:41 PM:

    This is the way ideologies begin to choke on their own rigidity. A couple of "big ideas" drive out every other consideration. Keeping your message simple and pure, so as not to require listeners to think and weigh your ideas, eventually bumps up against the inherent intractability and messiness of the real world. The blindingly obvious need to provide large-scale assistance to stricken communities after a natural disaster, never questioned by anyone until now, must wait while we decide which schools, libraries, and parks we will close to balance out the cost, or which already strapped state we can dump it on, or unbelievably, which private company will do the job.

    And the justification for this is, "We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future of our kids." That is, the kids crying and unfed in the midst of the rubble.

    If I held views like that, I hope I would cut out my tongue for fear of voicing them.

  • bdop4 on June 15, 2011 2:55 PM:

    "The poorest of the poor in, say, Bible Belt America believe EXACTLY this. We're "rugged individualists" and we don't need "big government" and we certainly don't need "handouts" - Mitch

    That is until a massive flood or tornado flattens their town. Then they switch so fast it makes your head spin.

    Just ask the good citizens of Joplin, MO.

  • DAY on June 15, 2011 2:58 PM:

    When you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth you are disinclined to walk a mile in another man's shoes. Or even realize that he is shoeless.

    Recall that Florida's senator Graham would work for a day at different jobs, so he could see what was happening in the real world.

    I suggest that Romney get up at 3 AM, and hang off the back of a garbage truck for 8 hours. In December.

  • Sean Scallon on June 15, 2011 3:05 PM:

    "We are not self-contained human units each out to maximize individual wealth and consumption; we are Americans, and we help each other out."

    That's very true. But please explain why a distant government in eastern city make us willing to help each other out?

  • Texas Aggie on June 15, 2011 4:31 PM:

    "... and that the very idea is at odds with who we are."

    Not anymore, it's not. Now we're on the verge of a nation of warlords.

    I fear that Mitch has the right idea.

  • Mitch on June 15, 2011 4:44 PM:

    @bdop4 "Then they switch so fast it makes your head spin."


    You're entirely correct. Unfortunately they can do a lot of damage in the meantime.

    @Texas Aggie

    I hope that I am wrong.

  • dianne on June 15, 2011 6:06 PM:

    The people of Joplin and Tuscaloosa have already been helped by a compassionate government so they have nothing to lose by voting for the Republicans in 2012.
    It is the people hurt by future disasters who won't get that help who will be so sorry for their 2012 votes - like so many in Wisconsin and Ohio today.

  • Hannah on June 15, 2011 9:35 PM:

    Again with the "future of our kids"! What about kids who have lost their homes, their schools, even family members in a natural disaster? We can't help them now because it jeopardizes their future? What future? The future starts tomorrow not 30 years from now. Fer gosh sakes what a ridiculous argument. Please someone call these b*stards on it.

    Hannah, po'ed

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