As Paul Ryan wryly noted in the last debate, politicians don't always say what they mean. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is no exception – in fact, Romney displays this foible more often than most. Romney's FEMA comments are no exception. He was quoted saying that he would cut fed-based FEMA in favor of each state taking care of its own disaster response efforts. And while his blunt, austere wording in inexcusable, and his perception of the facts questionable, the basic idea behind it is defensible.
"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," Romney said at the June 2011 GOP debate, in response to whether the Massachusetts governor would cut FEMA.
With Hurricane Sandy reeking havoc over half of the nation some 14 months after his comments, Romney's words seem like blasphemy. But let me make it simple: Here's what's right about Romney's stance on FEMA, and here's what's not.
In typical Romney fashion, his classic mistake is that he overstates himself. The quote about starts with "every time ... " and ends with suggesting we take public safety all the way to the public sector.
Problem numero uno is that even the rule of thumb comes with some exception. It’s hard to say that every time we have the opportunity to take a responsibility away from the government we should.
Even Ron Paul wouldn't agree that we should take, say, the power to declare war away from the government and give it to the states. If that were the case, Arizona would have skipped the message passage of the controversial SB 1070 bill and skipped straight to declaring war on Mexico.
Then there is the next major problem of suggesting public safety should be in the hands of the private sector. Yes, there are cases when the private sector has done well in the business of emergency response, such as privately operated ambulance services. But all private enterprises are ultimately in the business of making money. If not logistically problematic, it at the very least seems morally problematic that those responsible for the well-being of all are not accountable to the public.
The Part Worth Considering:
But despite the semantic errors, Romney has a point. The fed, by its very nature, is a sluggish creature making it ill-suited for handling emergency situations.
One good example of this arises from Katrina. As we all know, it took days, even weeks, for authorities to bring relief to the affected area.
The first few paragraphs of this article from Dome Magazine tell the story of how Sheriff Mike Bouchard of Oakland County, Mich. assembled a response team – side-stepping both the state's governor and federal protocol in a time of crisis.
Anyone who remembers the Katrina disaster can agree that FEMA did not do what it purported. And moreover, it brought neither relief nor order to the affected area in the crucial days after Katrina.
And, just so we're clear, Sandy is kind of a big deal. FEMA I hope you're standing by: