As Hurricane Sandy forced evacuations and shut down public transit, New York City bus drivers transported patients to hospitals. Nurses stayed and watched over the sick. First responders marched into danger.
As these public workers were out saving lives, right-wing Republicans like Chris Christie took a break from bashing them. Alas, based on disasters past, we shouldn’t hold our breath for a lasting change of heart.
While political pundits weighed how Mitt Romney could optimize his hurricane optics, a better question got too little play: How can Romney Republicans reconcile their anti-government extremism with actual reality?
If you haven’t watched the video of Romney’s June 2011 debate comments on FEMA, you should. And so should every undecided or under-inspired voter you know. Asked specifically about FEMA—the federal agency responsible for coordinating disaster response—Romney offered a chilling response: “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.”
“Every time”? Talk about unhinged ideology. (As Matt Yglesias notes, this is also terrible economics.) So much for “moderate Mitt.”
After moderator John King asked once more if Romney was referring to “disaster relief,” the vulture capitalist doubled down: “We cannot—we cannot afford to do these things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.” That’s right: Mitt Romney claimed with a straight face that deficit reduction requires de-federalizing or privatizing FEMA. And in an e-mail to The Huffington Post Sunday night, the Romney campaign didn’t exactly Etch-A-Sketch that stance away; instead, a campaign official said states should “have the resources and assistance they need to cope with natural disasters.” On Tuesday, when reporters asked the candidate himself about his stance, he simply ignored them.
What would a privatized FEMA look like? Premium service for the 1 percent? Elusive coverage for “high-risk” homes? Emergency services from Halliburton? Let’s pray we never find out.
If you’ve been waiting to declare the death of “moderate Republicanism,” consider this: Unless there’s a war to be waged, the modern GOP won’t even recognize a federal responsibility to protect Americans.
Unlike the privateers, public employees serve everyone—including the politicians who use them as punching bags. They teach our kids, they pave our roads, they keep us safe. They often pass up better-paying or less risky work to do it. Weeks like this, it’s near-impossible not to notice. Yet most of the time, these workers get some combination of neglect and contempt from our country’s elite. Consider how quickly after 9/11 politicians’ FDNY baseball caps faded into fiery denunciations of public employee bloat.
And Republicans aren’t just making idle threats. As Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert reported, the class of GOP governors swept into office in 2010 secured massive public sector layoffs—a sadly disregarded part of the story of our ongoing economic slump. Romney himself openly mocked the idea that we need “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.”
Romney’s contempt for public workers is of a piece with his contempt for those who rely most on public services—or, as he calls, them, “the 47 percent.” Bus rider? Public school parent? Guess what: You’re on your own (or, per Jared Bernstein, YOYO for short).
Of course, like the hurricane itself, slash-and-burn government hurts the most vulnerable the most, but it threatens all of us eventually. Just witness our utter failure to confront our ever-quickening climate crisis.
I’m sure Romney Republicans love the country, but they show little love for public servants, or for 47 percent of the public. Forgive me, but when they say “one nation,” it’s starting to sound a little hollow.
For more Nation takes on Hurricane Sandy, check out Mike Tidwell on what the storm says about climate change and the fate of coastal cities.