You’re On Your Own When Disaster Strikes

A very good catch by Ryan Grim at HuffPost last night:

During a CNN debate at the height of the GOP primary, Mitt Romney was asked, in the context of the Joplin disaster and FEMA’s cash crunch, whether the agency should be shuttered so that states can individually take over responsibility for disaster response.

“Absolutely,” he said. “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. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?”

“Including disaster relief, though?” debate moderator John King asked Romney.

“We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids,” Romney replied. “It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”

So much nonsense about the role of government was uttered so often during the GOP debates that I had totally forgotten about this one. I don’t know anything about Mitt Romney’s experiences with big natural disasters when he was governor of Massachusetts, but having been through a couple during my state government days in Georgia, I can confidently say that totally devolving responsibility for emergency management and disaster relief to the states, much less the private sector, is a notion only a stone ideologue would embrace. Events like Sandy are by definition “all hands on deck” moments. The feds don’t always do the best job in these situations, but suggesting they are none of the national government’s business is the kind of policy that might have even given Barry Goldwater pause.

UPDATE: Hiram College political scientist Jason Johnson has this assessment of Romney’s brief record of emergency management in Massachusetts:

[W]hat do we know about Mitt Romney when it comes to natural disasters? Every storm is different, but you can tell a great deal about Romney by how he handled the Mother’s Day storms in Massachusetts in 2006. He tried, the results are mixed, and I don’t think there’s anyone in America who would say his inclement weather resume is Bush/Katrina bad, nor Corey Booker/Snowstorm good.

Betcha Mitt didn’t turn down FEMA and other federal government assistance on philosophical grounds.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.