Politicize the Storm

The “post-tropical storm” responsible for flooding the New York subways is another brief opportunity to reflect on the role of government before the polls close exactly one week from now.  As President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg, and Governors Christie, Cuomo, and O’Malley got about the detailed business of recovery, candidate Romney was asked 15 times about his opinions on the role of the federal government in disaster aid, and 15 times he said nothing.

As Grist notes:

“Because what’s he going to say? His campaign hedges on the issue, but he doesn’t want to deal with this, not now. He doesn’t want to have to explain his complicated feelings on government and climate change. His base wants him to destroy the former and deny the latter. So, what? Now, after 23 months of campaigning, he’s going to say: Yes, the government has a role here?”

In fact, as the New York Times says, a big storm requires big government help. This is precisely the role of the federal government. Romney’s tortured silence on the issue is troublesome.

“Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages.”

Voters watching non-stop storm coverage punctuated only by breaks of non-stop political advertising are likely to connect the obvious dots. I suspect that they will want to hear what Mr. Romney has to say.

I don’t doubt Governor Romney’s sympathies, but even his gestures are misguided.  Romney, bless his heart, rallied his supporters to offer up a collection of  “flashlights, batteries, diapers, toothbrushes, mini-deodorants, fleece blankets, cereal, toilet paper and canned goods” for the huddled masses suffering on the east coast. And the boxes of the stuff will undoubtedly be delivered by somebody to somebody somewhere.

But such token generosity is way more trouble than it’s worth. Indeed, with millions of families affected by the storm and thousands in serious need of assistance, real responders urge a more responsible approach to donating and volunteering.  In very stark terms, a strong, well-organized and well-funded federal emergency response system is preferable to packing up a couple of random cases of mouthwash at a political rally. Though, to the campaign that washes already-clean pots and pans, it is perhaps better to have faux concern than no concern at all.