Mitt Romney is trying to look magnanimous in the wake of Tropical Storm Sandy’s devastation of the East Coast. He is reframing campaign rallies as events to collect charitable contributions such as canned food. The con game is working well: CNN dutifully covered his Tuesday schedule as a shift away from his usual Obama-bashing.
Unfortunately, as I have previously explained, the Romney-Ryan ticket’s lip service to volunteerism is just a way of distracting voters from the heartlessness of their policy proposals. All the cans of soup they collect are no substitute for the power of the federal government to rescue the stranded or care for the injured. As John Nichols notes, the Romney-Ryan budget would slash funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is a regular feature of Republican governance: Republicans in Congress have sought to reduce FEMA’s budget and both Presidents Bush undermined the agency by filling it with political hacks. The results after hurricanes Andrew and Katrina were terrible.
If Romney wanted to actually do something useful for the people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who are suffering from flooding, power outages, transit service cancellations, injuries and property damage, he wouldn’t be holding rallies in the Midwest pretending to do something charitable. Instead, he would make a substantive speech in which he acknowledges that he has prioritized tax cuts for the wealthy over emergency relief. But now, he would say, he is willing to forgo tax cuts as much as necessary to make sure emergency relief is adequately funded. Moreover, recognizing that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of natural disasters, he would put forth a plan to mitigate their future impact. For example, he could propose that the federal government invest in moving power lines underground, or modernizing subway infrastructure so that it can better withstand being inundated with salt water.
Alas, none of that is going to happen. Nor will this event cause Republicans to face reality regarding climate science. Meghan McCain, a Republican pundit who calls for her party to accept modernity, tweeted Monday night: “So are we still going to go with climate change not being real fellow republicans [sic]?” By Tuesday we had an answer: Romney released a commercial for Pennsylvania promising to mine and burn as much coal as we can. “And, by the way, I like coal,” says Romney in the ad, with video taken from the first presidential debate. “People in the coal industry feel like it's getting crushed by [Obama’s] policies. I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.”
Conservative pundits had already returned to their pre-storm talking points on Tuesday. Frustrated by their inability to find a failure in Obama’s response to the storm, they instead had to settle for carping more about their pet issue of the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi. This put them in the bizarre position of seeming to complain that Obama was actually too attentive to the nation on Monday and Tuesday. Michael Brown, who notoriously failed to effectively manage FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina when he was its director, actually had the gall to criticize Obama. In an interview with a local weekly newspaper in Denver, Brown said, “One thing he’s gonna be asked is, why did he jump on [the hurricane] so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in…Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas? Why was this so quick?… At some point, somebody’s going to ask that question…. This is like the inverse of Benghazi.”
The question is already being asked on Fox News, of course. As ThinkProgress reports, “Brown is not the only one making the insinuation that Obama and his administration are responding too quickly to Sandy only for political reasons. He’s joined in his accusations by such prominent right-wing commentators as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and columnist Charles Krauthammer.” Brown, Gingrich and Krauthammer might have a point about Benghazi in itself, but that is irrelevant to the question of how Obama handled Sandy. Their answers make it clear that they are so blinded by partisanship that there is nothing Obama could have done that they would not criticize.
It would be nice if conservatives and Republicans were capable of having their ideological fixations adjusted by lived experience. Sandy should have convinced them that even if they still oppose cap-and-trade, climate change is quite real. And even if they oppose a generous welfare state, there are some things only the government can handle. New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie is belligerently angry at New Jerseyans who ignored his order to evacuate. And yet he seems incapable of recognizing that, as William Saletan points out at Slate, the rationale behind mandatory evacuations is exactly the same as for an individual health insurance mandate: you should not be able put yourself in harm’s way and expect society to bail you out. Republicans are, of course, as unlikely to reconsider healthcare reform in light of Sandy as they are climate change or budget priorities.
And so the lesson from Sandy will be drawn by liberals: that the stakes in this election are truly a matter of life and death.
Romney has also considered privatizing emergency relief. Check out Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Romney's Public Disservice."