Democrats, media pounce on natural disaster to score political points
By Andrew Stiles
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said in November 2008.
Democrats and liberal pundits are following Emanuel’s advice and refusing to let Hurricane Sandy, which has left at least 40 dead, distract them from their political mission of preventing Mitt Romney from becoming president.
The storm and its aftermath, these liberals argue, illustrate the need for large government agencies funded by historically high levels of federal spending.
“A Big Storm Requires Big Government,” read the headline of a New York Times editorial posted Monday evening as the storm was wreaking havoc in the mid-Atlantic United States.
The Times and others seized on comments Romney made during the Republican presidential primary when he said he would be open to exploring whether the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could be better played by state governments or private entities.
“Ideology still blinds Republicans to [FEMA’s] value,” the Times’ editorial board wrote. “Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.”
FEMA, which coordinates and assists emergency response at the federal level, obligated some $5.6 billion in assistance in fiscal year 2011, according to its fiscal year 2013 budget request.
That is a rounding error in the $3.6 trillion of federal expenditures that year. Practically all the federal budget is devoted to social welfare programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other cash transfers as well as defense spending.
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson followed the Times’ lead and also slammed Republicans for opposing massive federal intervention to address climate change.
Romney’s 2011 comments were “absurd,” “dangerous,” and “dishonest,” Robinson wrote in a column posted late Monday under the headline: “Romney would pass the buck on disasters.”
“I guess having to survive a few hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes on our own would certainly foster personal responsibility,” snarked the opinion writer.
Huffington Post reporter Ryan Grim was among the first to revisit Romney’s FEMA remarks in an article posted shortly before Sandy was projected to make landfall.
Others were quick to pile on.
“Does Romney want Halliburton in charge of disaster relief?” tweeted Paul Begala, a strategist for Priorities USA, the Obama-aligned Super PAC that has run ads suggesting Romney was somehow responsible for a woman’s death from cancer.
“Whether it’s a hurricane or everyday life, basic question is are we all in this together or is each on his own? That’s the choice on 11/6,” opined University of California-Berkeley professor Robert Reich, who later added: “Will we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable under President Obama, or do the exact opposite under President Romney?”
It is unclear if President Obama is campaigning on a pledge to “afflict the comfortable,” of whom many may be swing voters.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews on Monday predicted Republicans would “ have some weird excuse” to blame Obama for mishandling the federal response to the storm.
GOP leaders such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, however, had nothing but praise for the president’s handling of the situation thus far.
On Tuesday, as the full extent of the storm’s damage was being assessed, Democrats and liberals continued to politicize the crisis in an effort to make the case for bigger government.
Former Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said the storm’s devastation “demonstrates as clearly as anything I can think of, the importance of having a strong federal government.”
“When a hurricane comes, everyone wants Big Brother,” New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore said on MSNBC.
Others echoed Eugene Robinson’s argument that Hurricane Sandy was the result of a Republican-led effort to block a massive federal intervention in the global energy market aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
Former President Bill Clinton mocked Romney for mocking Obama’s now infamous claim that his victory in the 2008 Democratic primary “was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Former vice president and failing cable executive Al Gore said the hurricane was “a disturbing sign of things to come” if the United States declines to offer dramatic taxpayer-funded subsidies to green energy companies.
Democratic blogger Jonathan Chait praised the attacks on Romney, writing: “What you are going to see over the next week is an overt effort by Democrats to politicize the issue of disaster response. They’re right to do it.”
Reporters pestered Romney over his FEMA comments during a hurricane relief event in Ohio.
“TV pool asked Romney at least five times whether he would eliminate FEMA as president/what he would do with FEMA,” according to a pool report released Tuesday. “He ignored the [questions] but they are audible on cam. The music stopped at points and the [questions] would have been audible to him.”
Romney’s campaign, however, had already clarified the candidate’s position.
Romney’s campaign was in Ohio collecting food and other items for storm victims. The Republican nominee urged supporters to donate money to the American Red Cross.
However, Salon blogger Alex Pareene was not impressed.
“Just write a fucking check to the Red Cross and get on with campaigning. Give those useless dry good donations to Ohio food banks,” he wrote on Twitter.
The White House tweeted a photo Monday of the president monitoring the ongoing response to the storm from the Situation Room.
Obama’s decision to cancel campaign events scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday underscored the gravity of the situation, as his resolve to appear at rallies and fundraisers is not easily shaken.
He recently attended a fundraiser in Las Vegas, for example, just one after the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed during a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
A photo of the president monitoring the Benghazi attack in the White House Situation Room could not be found.