The Right’s Pavlovian Response to Government

John Cole makes a good point here — especially in light of the assault on Pres. Obama from the far right (actually, is there any other kind now?) for taking charge of hurricane tracking and response efforts:

This is an example of the kind of thing that drives me crazy about US politics. We have a large bureaucracy with experts designed to handle these things- why do Americans demand a show of the President hunkered down in a bunker “taking charge?” The problem with the Bush response to national disasters and Katrina was not insufficient photo ops in a bunker, it was that they had completely gutted FEMA, screwed up the entire chain of command with confusion related to what is and what is not the purview of Homeland Security, and on top of it all, put an incompetent nitwit lawyer most noted for his association with Arabian horses in charge of the disaster response.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attacking Obama- I know why he is there, mainly because our idiot press would run with Republican narratives of Obama being detached or on vacation, etc. But he really shouldn’t need to be. …

But you and I know the rules. He can’t. We need to see big daddy there “IN CHARGE” or we’ll be subjected to another round of Mark Knoller tweets discussing how many times Obama has golfed.

Exactly. Righties mocked Obama for being on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard when last week’s East Coast earthquake hit. Now, they are mocking him for (in their spin) acting like the government has any role to play in the aftermath of a hurricane or any other natural disaster:

Like a bunch of happy pigs rolling around in the mud, conservatives are really reveling in their anti-government fanaticism this week. After Marco Rubio (R-FL) explained how the Great Society and New Deal made the United States a nation of weaklings, Ron Paul (R-TX) declared that we don’t need FEMA and that things were like, way better in 1900.

(Editorial note: 1900 is the year up to 12,000 people died in the Galveston Hurricane. But at least they died free!)

Now, wingnut bloggers are scoffing at the idea that the chief executive of the federal government has any role to play in national disasters. It’s hard to tell if this is motivated by a) their anti-government hysteria; b) a Pavlovian response to anything the Kenyan Marxist Muslim does; c) an effort to rehabilitate George W. Bush’s spectacular Katrina fail; or d) all of the above.

But amidst all this crazy, one particularly wingnutty remark stands out.

Carpenter apparently doesn’t know that flash floods kill more people in the United States every year than terrorism. About half of them are vehicle related, i.e., people trying to drive through flooded areas.

In fact, just a couple weeks ago, four people were killed in Pittsburgh by a flash flood — including two children — and now the city is considering investing in a warning system to prevent future fatalities. To which Carpenter would no doubt reply, “Heh. Thanks Pittsburgh!”

At least one instance of this happened in my area (northern New Jersey). A woman died when she tried to drive through a section of flooded road. Apparently, jerks like Amanda Carpenter think public officials should just let things like this happen without trying to prevent them by issuing warnings or putting up signs about flash floods. Undoubtedly, those warnings have saved many more lives than have been lost when people who did not fully understand the potential danger drowned in these flash floods.

James Joyner points out how difficult it is for public officials to “get it right” in the public’s view:

There’s simply no winning for politicians.

President Obama acquitted himself nicely, keeping it low key but cutting his vacation short and hanging out at the National Response Coordination Center to appear in charge. He learned the lessons of Katrina quite well and did his damnedest to appear to be in command and concerned. There wasn’t a hell of a lot he could do, of course, but looking concerned while not projecting panic goes a long way.

Governors and mayors have to make decisions about evacuation in time to actually affect an evacuation safely. The safe course is to take the worst projections, add 50 percent, and act accordingly. Nine times out of ten, though, people will be pissed that they were forced to evacuate unnecessarily. The other time, though, countless lives will be saved.

Another example from my area: Two kayakers were rescued in the stormy waters off Staten Island last night by government employees (i.e., police officers). Their kayaks had overturned and although they were wearing life vests, they still could easily have drowned in those high waves if help had not been nearby. Now, those individuals had no business being out there — there was a mandatory evacuation order in effect, and before that the authorities had been telling people in low-lying areas to evacuate voluntarily, for hours and hours before the mandatory orders took effect. They not only put their own lives at risk, they put the lives of those first responders at risk, and prevented them from responding to other situations that did not involve people deliberately defying an evacuation order. And after they had been pulled out of the water (which took half an hour, from what I heard on the news) and were physically safe, they were given summonses — very deservedly so. However, I am not one of those who believe that stupidity should be a death sentence, and I’m glad that in this case it wasn’t — thanks to the government.

Here is some more commentary, from both the anti-government ninnies and from those who have half a brain:

  • Libby Spencer: “Look, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I know politics often involves more optics than substance. Hell, I sometimes demand better optics from the political class myself. But I’m really irritated by this false meme that Obama is pretending to take charge of the response to Irene.”No. He’s not just “learning the lesson of Katrina” and making sure it appears he’s engaged and in charge. He’s actually taking charge of the response, because it’s his job and he’s been fully engaged in doing that job from day one. He’s not the one who asks for the Cliff Notes version for the briefings. That was the last guy and any superficial analogies between the two are wildly invalid.
  • The Other McCain: “Killed bin Laden. Beat Qaddafi. Kicked a hurricane’s ass. Whatever.”
  • Tintin at Sadly, No! referring to John Hinderaker: “And what would Butt Rocket have said if Obama stayed on vacation?”
  • William Jacobson manages to fault Obama both for being on vacation AND for cutting his vacation short: “He took charge? What exactly did he do in the fews [sic] hours after he rushed back from vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, barely having time to scrape the grass off his golf cleats?”
  • Alan Colmes, under the headline “Right Wing Politicizes Hurricane Irene,” adds, “They think it will make Bush’s Katrina failure look better.”
  • Weasel Zippers, under the headline “Fearless Leader ‘Takes Charge’ at Hurricane Command Center,” the Weasel writes, “More like a pathetic photo-op.”
  • Brad Johnson at Think Progress: “On Saturday, Obama chaired a meeting at the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA’s Washington headquarters, and “convened a conference call with members of his senior emergency response team including Vice President Joe Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, among others.” He also “heard updates on Saturday from governors and emergency management officials in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.” Right-wing pundits lashed out at Obama, bizarrely claiming that the President of the United States is engaged in a political campaign when he commands the executive branch’s response to Hurricane Irene[.]”
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1 Comment

Filed under Breaking News, Environment, Media, Politics, Society

One response to “The Right’s Pavlovian Response to Government

  1. To quote myself: “And through it all, there will be some big-mouthed politician who will emerge from a hurricane shelter, go on Fox News, and carry on about how big government can’t do anything right and that the American people can do it themselves. In the first case, he’s alive only because he was protected by government planning and infrastructure, and in the second case, the American people can do it themselves — by creating a government that provides the protection and infrastructure to handle these kinds of emergencies.”

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