Ron Paul doubles down, rejects FEMA

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul raised a few eyebrows on Friday when he said he saw no need for FEMA to respond to any natural disaster, including Hurricane Irene. “We should be like 1900,” Paul said, adding that emergency response efforts should “coordinated voluntarily with the states.”

By any sane standard, this was absurd rhetoric for anyone, but it’s especially offensive coming from a federal lawmaker and White House hopeful. Paul, however, doubled down this morning.

As Hurricane Irene rampaged up the East Coast Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of handling the damages caused by the pounding rain, flash floods and high-speed winds.

“It’s a system of bureaucratic central economic planning, which is a fallacy that is deeply flawed,” the Texas congressman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “FEMA has been around since 1978. It has one of the worst reputations for a bureaucracy ever.”

Paul added that he would oppose funding FEMA’s emergency response efforts.

Let’s note a couple of things. First, Paul’s opposition to the “fallacy” of a federal response is fundamentally at odds with reality. As we talked about the other day, voluntary coordination among states is a recipe for one outcome: failure. Cash-strapped states barely have the resources for schools and law enforcement; the notion that they’ll be able to prepare and respond to a natural disaster, and rebuild in its wake, without any federal role whatsoever, is ridiculous.

Indeed, Galveston, Texas, which is in Paul’s congressional district, is home to the most brutal natural disaster in American history — a hurricane killed at least 6,000 people in a few hours. There was no FEMA to help before or after the crisis. It’s not exactly a model of how we should be operating now.

But just as important, I’m struck by Paul’s notion that FEMA has “one of the worst reputations for a bureaucracy ever.” That’s plainly false. FEMA is an efficient, effective agency that’s proven itself very capable of providing much-needed assistance to hard-hit areas. It occasionally has faltered, but the larger administrative context always matters.

As Kevin Drum explained a few months ago, “Under Bush Sr., FEMA sucked. Under Clinton, FEMA was rehabilitated and turned into a superstar agency. Under Bush Jr., FEMA sucked again. Under Obama, FEMA’s doing great and responding quickly. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to politicize natural disasters. Not when that politicization makes Republicans look bad, anyway. So I’ll just let you draw your own conclusions from these four data points.”

Update: On “Meet the Press” this morning, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said, “This is a much better FEMA than the olden days. They have been with us since day one…. Craig Fugate and the people at FEMA, Secretary Napolitano and President Obama — they have been excellent.”