Political Animal


August 30, 2011 8:30 AM ‘Big Government finally got one right’

By Steve Benen

Hurricane Irene is gone, but its affects are still being felt. As of this morning, the death toll had climbed to 40.

And while relief efforts continue, there are already some preliminary evaluations on how officials prepared and responded to the storm. Dana Milbank explains today, “Don’t expect anybody to throw a tea party, but Big Government finally got one right.”

The Irene government would seem to have its benefits. Before the storm struck, 18 FEMA teams deployed from Florida to Maine, repositioning as the emphasis moved to New England. Food, water, generators and tarps were in place along the storm’s path. In Vermont, when the storm forced evacuation of the state emergency operations center, the workers relocated to a FEMA facility. In North Carolina, FEMA provided in-the-dark local authorities with generator power. And everywhere, FEMA, given new authority by Congress after Katrina, didn’t have to wait for states to request help.

“We have to go fast; we have to base it upon the potential impacts,” [FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate] said Monday, describing the Irene response. “That’s why we look at these forecasts we get from the hurricane center, and we make the decisions based upon what the potential impacts could be. If you wait till you know how bad it is, it becomes harder to change the outcome.”

That’s one model. The other model is to have a weak federal government, without the funds to forecast storms or to launch a robust emergency response in time to do any good. You might call that the Tea Party model.

That Tea Party model, by the way, isn’t a hypothetical scenario — congressional Republicans are not only unwilling to provide emergency disaster relief without offsetting spending cuts, they’re also eager to cut the resources NOAA needs to track storms, while also slashing the FEMA budget.

This week, federal agencies are winning generally rave reviews, but if the public expects equally competent disaster response efforts in the future, Americans will have to hope the GOP agenda is rejected.

Let’s also note, by the way, that it’s not just federal agencies that were on the ball when it came to this hurricane. Politico noted today, “If this was a test, the collection of East Coast governors known for their national ambitions passed.” The article added that these governors “have gotten kudos for doing everything they could to limit casualties and chaos in the face of the uncontrollable.”

And let’s also not forget President Obama. It seems presidents are generally in a no-win scenario when dealing with a natural disaster — they only get attention if their administration fails the test — but I’m struck by the extent to which Obama has been all over this storm.

Over the last week, we’ve seen the president host multiple teleconferences with his emergency response teams, receiving updates before, during, and after the storm, in addition to a series of preparedness discussions with regional governors. Cutting his vacation short, Obama delivered a public address on Friday, urging Americans in targeted areas to get prepared; he went to FEMA headquarters on Saturday; and he delivered another public address on Sunday, giving Americans a status check. Obama also, of course, dispatched response teams up and down the East coast.

This was a president fully engaged in the topic at hand, and it reinforced Milbank’s assertion that the government got this one just right.

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.


Post a comment
  • Anonymous on August 30, 2011 8:35 AM:

    Great. Now where are the jobs.

  • Perspecticus on August 30, 2011 8:36 AM:

    "The Irene government..."

    I have no idea what an "Irene government" is.

  • Anonymous on August 30, 2011 8:38 AM:

    "Great. Now where are the jobs."

    Well, all along the eastern seaboard, if you're actually looking. I think you're just being bitchy, but if you are looking, you could start in Vermont or North Carolina and move south or north, respectively, depending on your current location.

  • walt on August 30, 2011 8:39 AM:

    Well, as they say, the ads write themselves.

    Except, they probably won't. We desperately need to educate a public stupid with glibertarian nonsense. I'm struck over and over by the average citizen's contempt for government and virtually insane belief that private enterprise can do anything better. I see government employees parroting this line of attack!

    Most people are not radical but they are susceptible to easy and crazy suggestions. This is what is so disturbing about our cold civil war. People are fundamentally sane but our media climate is insane. A republic doesn't survive with this much toxicity in its atmosphere.

  • bignose on August 30, 2011 8:40 AM:

    The problem is, there is no problem.

    When things go wrong, it's easy to see what went wrong, assign blame etc.

    But when things go right, or at least when they don't end up being a total clusterf*$k, it's hard to get credit to go where credit is due.

  • jhm on August 30, 2011 8:42 AM:

    In a way, the TPers have the more honest approach, as they specifically state their desire to eliminate federal forecasting and disaster response organs. While I find this ludicrous, it seems a step above the previous GOP strategy of placing unqualified patronage hacks in these positions, giving the appearance of being prepared, while not actually being so.

    To be fair, at least as far as Heckava Job was concerned, his position passed muster with Hon Sen. Lieberman et alia, so the blame cannot be wholly partisan in character.

  • Anonymous on August 30, 2011 8:48 AM:

    "Well, all along the eastern seaboard, if you're actually looking. I think you're just being bitchy, but if you are looking, you could start in Vermont or North Carolina and move south or north, respectively, depending on your current location."

    I am being bitchy until I hear Obama's plan. From what I am hearing it is Geitner 2.0. I hope I can eat my words in one week. Are you talking about digging ditches? I am not good at that. But I would welcome a 2T infrastructure plan. Do you want to place a bet on if Obama will go big or go Geitner?

  • c u n d gulag on August 30, 2011 8:50 AM:

    Someone needs to point this out:

    Eric Cantor is apparently demanding that the money to help with the earthquake in his state, and to fix VAs beaches after Hurricane Irene, will have come from Joplin MOs tornado victims.

    Keep voting "Republican" there, MO!

  • Anonymous on August 30, 2011 8:53 AM:

    Another thing. If Obama in a week starts talking about debt, deficit, or the debt ceiling, I will just have to slit my fucking throat. Or at the very least claw my eyes out their sockets. JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS,JOBS is all I want to fucking hear out his mouth.

  • Anonymous on August 30, 2011 8:59 AM:

    @ cundgulang:

    "Someone needs to point this out:Eric Cantor is apparently demanding that the money to help with the earthquake in his state, and to fix VA�s beaches after Hurricane Irene, will have come from Joplin MO�s tornado victims."

    Someone?? How about Obama? How about fucking Schumer? How about ANY, elected Democrat?? Democrats know the media will not say shit, unless they beat the GOP over the head with this.

  • Stephen on August 30, 2011 8:59 AM:

    So, how is this new, competent government handling reconstruction in Haiti? Going well?

  • Anonymous on August 30, 2011 9:02 AM:

    Stephen? What the hell you talking about. You trying to blame Obama for Haiti? This is just a dumb comment, my friend.

  • kevo on August 30, 2011 9:02 AM:

    Tea Party policies are not healthy for children and other living things!

    Tea Party policies divide when we should unite!

    Tea Party policies are miserly!

    Tea Party policies serve the few at the expense of the rest of us!

    Tea Party policies accentuate the negative and diminish the positive!

    Tea Party policies are rarely based in reality!

    Tea Party policies damage!

    I need a cup of coffee! -Kevo

  • AndThenThere'sThat on August 30, 2011 9:25 AM:

    I'm struck over and over by the average citizen's contempt for government

    Last Friday I was at the county assessor's office waiting 4th in line for service when a 5th person walked in and grabbed a "take a number". With so few people, the counter had been deactivated but a man in his late twenties had to chime in, "that's government, they can't do anything right. And they want to run our healthcare system." The lady talking the number heartily agreed and they struck up a loud anti-government conversation. Right after that, I was running another errand in a small business, when a woman started complaining that she had to go fill up her car, but gas had just gone up 25cents because of the hurricane on the east coast. She gave an exasperated look and said, "they'd better not let me into congress, because I'd give them a piece of my mind".

    So yes, I agree people are on a hair trigger to hate the government. The GOP's plan to shovel sand into the gears of government and then stand over the nearly broken machine and scream that it's not working seems to be paying off nicely for them.

    Oh, and people are stupid.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 30, 2011 9:30 AM:

    So why the hell did Obama not return to D.C. and assist in planning before the earthquake struck Virginia?

    The Tea Parties are correct. All federal government spending should be eliminated that is not directly related to the militarization of our country or the transfer of money to corporate and wealthy interests.

    Yes, there is some good and beneficial spending being done by the federal government. For example, we have been spending about $75 Billion a year on Homeland Security. That minor amount of spending has decreased the odds of being killed by a terrorist in the U.S. from 1 in 3.5 million to 1 in 4.5 million!

  • kat on August 30, 2011 9:51 AM:

    Ok...so GOP and Tea Party say do not help people who have just lost part or everything they own to a natural disaster. Funny...I did not hear them chiming in after Joplin...maybe because it was a mid-west state where they have more voters??? I dare them to go to the people in Vermont who just lost everything...and tell them we are going to not help you until we cut more of the budget...That stall tactic that they have used to blackmail for their offensive budget is not going to work here. You are talking about human beings in distress...not some bill..Kudos to President Obama for being active from the get go (unlike Bush who did not know Katrina had wiped out New Orleans until a week later). And what the hell are you going to cut GOP? You have pretty much wiped out education funding to the bare bones (our children will really appreciate that(*&*&^&) and anything else for those who are elderly and in need...Maybe it is time to cut military...stop some wars...and tax the ultra rich and corps like you tax the average American. We are not stupid...we will remember..Oh and my fav comment from a GOP rep...we need to get rid of the National Weather Service...Oh yeah...so now people...if you want to know if a hurricane or tornado is heading your way...sorry...can not do it..you are on your own.

  • Peggy on August 30, 2011 10:36 AM:

    Government doesnt have to be big to assist its citizens during natural disasters. It sure as heck doesnt need to be as big as it is.

    Most small government advocates have NO problem with the government acting within the bounds of the constitution. National defense can easily include helping citizens to prepare for and to cope with disaster.

    As for all the other umpteen government departments that swell the size of the government,they have nothing to do with Hurricane Irene and our tax money could be better spent elsewhere, preferrably with us citizens deciding where to spend it.

  • Matt on August 30, 2011 10:41 AM:

    Thank goodness we have sensible centrist pundits like Dana Milbank to conscientiously and without bias let us know when "Big Government" has "finally" gotten one right.

    The thing is, Milbank isn't notably anti-government. He's actually been pretty contemptuous of the teabaggers at times, so I don't think he meant to undermine the central point of the entire article by unconsciously adopting the premise that "Big Government" exists and is usually just what the teabaggers think it is. But it's so much work to make your own framing, and this ultra-conservative framing is sitting right here!

    Someday Milbank is going to rise to some meaningful fraction of his potential as a journalist, and I'll write an article about it and give it the headline, "Pampered Corporate Mouthpiece Finally Puts In A Solid Day's Work."

  • k l m on August 30, 2011 11:15 AM:

    Big Government? How about 'Right Sized, Responsive Government'? As opposed to 'Small minded Anti-government' which accomplishes nothing and destroys everything we have done together.

  • KurtRex1453 on August 30, 2011 11:30 AM:

    (@KurtRex1453 has shared a Tweet with you:

    "KurtRex1453: Eric Cantor equals Scrooge. "Disaster relief? Bah Humbug! They should not live where disasters occur." #GOP #deficit #mean"


  • SYSPROG on August 30, 2011 12:32 PM:

    I REALLY am tired of the angry, whining naysayers. Where was Obama? He was letting the governors run their states like the Republicans are alway sniveling about. Will they give him credit? HELL NO. They will say the governors did it ALL. Where are the JOBS? OK nimrods...this was an act of God. You wanna be Cantor? Too BAD for these flippin' floods but we need jobs. Where is the LEADERSHIP??? Well if you WANT to be bitchy then you won't acknowledge that LEADERSHIP is allowing people to do their jobs and helping out where needed. MANAGEMENT is not trusting your people, pretending that you do it ALL and taking credit or placing blame depending on your political standing. Let's see...which one is the CURRENT President? If you are so concerned with JOBS right now, grab a chainsaw and go to the East Coast. There isn't a community that won't welcome you.

  • SYSPROG on August 30, 2011 12:40 PM:

    Oh and Peggy? 'Most small government advocates have NO problem with the government acting within the bounds of the constitution'...really? Which planet DO you live on? In the present Congress it seems that this is an either/or conversation. NO FEMA? FEMA? And just for HISTORICAL accuracy...Clinton brought down the number of people in government and BUSHCO developed HOMELAND SECURITY and ballooned the size of government. So when the Tea Party says 'right sized or no sized' they are blowing it out their ass. They don't even KNOW what they are talking about. They are just ALL about being against anything that is not a rightwing talking point.

  • Schtick on August 30, 2011 12:48 PM:

    If Obama were a real man, he would go on vacation 3 weeks out of every month, he would have bought a ranch and when he heard about Irene he would have gone there, cut some brush, thrown a birthday party and shoved birthday cake in McCain's mouth, had a fly over to wave at any floating bodies in Irene's wake and then set up private enterprise to suck up government money and screw up the living people left behind.
    Instead, Obama acted like a human, went on a vacation and when Irene was gathering force to put a hurting on the East Coast, he got ahead of it by getting people to work together with FEMA before disaster hit, cut his vacation short and made sure things got done the way it was set up to do.
    For that, the tealiban is going nutz and are going to try to make sure if another disaster is in the making, there is no way Obama will get credit for getting the job done because they are going to take away everything that is needed to make it a success. And these are the people that SAY they love our country. Bend over America, the tealiban wants to show you how much they love you.

    crapcha craps

  • Bob-0 on August 30, 2011 1:09 PM:

    TEA Party = The End of America Party!

  • 2Manchu on August 30, 2011 4:16 PM:

    So does Dana think the federal government has failed at everything until this weekend?

  • hank rearden on August 30, 2011 4:19 PM:

    As a former emergency management coordinator I can tell you that NO money is flowing from DC to any state or municipality until all damage assessments are done. That usually takes weeks. So the "great" government response has come exclusively from state and local entities. FEMA has no ability to control an emergency as it is happening. Their own manual used to say that they would not be on scene until at least 3 days after the event. The abject failure of the locals in New Orleans and Louisiana is in direct contrast to the competency of New Jersey, New York, PA. Virginia, etc.