The hurricane is expected to disrupt the lives of 50 million Americans along the Atlantic coast this week. Airlines have cancelled flights. Roads, tunnels and public transit have been shut down. And major cities have issued evacuation orders.
Though we’d rather she not, Hurricane Sandy offers an object lesson just in time for Election Day. The Tea Party and its favorite politicians dream of a federal government stripped down to next to nothing. They would slash the budget, meaning quick and efficient response to a multi-state natural disaster would be impossible. Grover Norquist, the anti-tax zealot Republicans must obey, sums up the logic better than we can: “My goal is to cut government in half in 25 years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
For some, those are comforting words. At least they are until the flood waters and high winds have damaged your home, your family, your school, your ability to make a living and so on. Then that much-despised government can mean the difference in recovery time.
George W. Bush’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina will linger as a warning for future presidents. No chief executive wants to look as unprepared and out of touch as President “Heckuva job, Brownie.”
It’s no surprise that President Barack Obama leapt into action in advance of Sandy. He declared emergencies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His administration will “respond big and respond fast” to the anticipated damage, Obama said.
“My message to the governors as well as to the mayors is anything they need, we will be there, and we will cut through red tape,” the AP quoted Obama saying. “We are not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules.”
This is what we’d expect from any president, particularly one asking voters for a second term. However, there’s a far larger point at play. Obama is but the latest caretaker of the federal government’s ability to respond to its citizens in need following a disaster. The ideal of a government that doesn’t leave it citizens adrift in times of crisis is a standard Americans would not forsake.