Treading water on FEMA

by Hemang Sharma

Like half of New Jersey, Gov. Mitt Romney is not looking in good shape. The man, who has mocked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and completely undermined its importance in dealing with natural disasters like hurricane Sandy, is now having nightmares about rising water in his campaign offices throughout the country.

At a CNN debate about a year ago, Romney advocated for “sending it back to the states” — speaking about the federal agency that deals with important aid and heads relief efforts, and even to “go further and send it back to the private sector.” Romney’s distrust and outright opposition to FEMA has come to hurt his credibility and intelligence, both as a politician, and as a potential President of the United States.

This notion that somehow the states have a better grip at where emergency help is needed isn’t completely flawed. Local police and medical-aid workers know how to navigate better, know the cities’ nooks and crannies better (quite literally so), but the funds, the help, and an organizational oversight is necessary.

What’s flawed is the perception that natural disasters only restrict themselves to specific states at a given time. When hurricane Sandy ravaged through the United States’ east coast last week, killing more than a hundred people, it touched many different cities and counties. New York and New Jersey, two different states, both suffered Sandy’s rage. Instead of having local and state agencies quarrel about the distribution of resources, and which states gets more money for dealing with disasters is going to be a nightmare.

Another important flaw in Romney’s approach is even suggesting privatizing FEMA.  The profit-motive doesn’t always work. Because if the capitalism for essential, survival services worked, and worked efficiently then the United States’ healthcare system wouldn’t be ranked as 37th in the world.

I’m an independent, and I love the free market. I admire individualism, and believe in hard work more than anything. But there are certain things that do not need to be for-profit. Disaster management is one of them. And so is healthcare, along with education. Mitt Romney simply is the poster child of a group of people who do not believe that the government can do anything right. People like conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist, a Republican who proclaimed his goal “to cut government in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Well as it turns out, Norquist’s government isn’t the only one submerged in water, fluttering to stay alive — so are many of my friends and family on the east coast. They would drown if it weren’t for the FEMA workers who worked tirelessly, and effectively to make sure everything was and is being done to get us past this crisis.

Mitt Romney, Grover Norquist and almost all of the tea-party-backed Republican candidates like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) are the people who hate the government, but love to be in charge, to run for office. Their hatred and mistrust for the American people who are part of the government has real, life-changing implications on how affective they are in governing. Because people who believe in government, people who believe in their country, and people who believe in You and Me; that we are all in this together — somehow end up above the political bickering and prove that efficient government exists, without restricting our freedoms.

Clear example is George W. Bush’s handling of hurricane Katrina and Barack Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy. While Bush stayed as far from New Orleans as possible, and yet claimed his men were doing “heck of a job”, New Orleans drowned itself. Barack Obama, toured, hugged and vowed to not let relief efforts get red-tagged of a state with a Republican Governor Chris Christie. Gov. Christie just days ago, while campaigning for Mitt Romney, recounted how he Barack Obama failed at being a leader. Christie vowed to give Obama a plane ticket back to Chicago, saying his failed leadership prohibits him to deserve another four years. Ironically, the same Gov. Christie praised Obama’s leadership and support in the wake of hurricane Sandy, depicting that when real people want to cross party lines and want to accomplish things, it can be done. The governor’s tone of describing Obama as a “man in a dark room, walking around, trying to find the light switch” seems to have changed with Obama and FEMA blitzing him through their dedication and commitment on the relief efforts for Sandy. Christie has praised Obama many times in the press in the past week, while indirectly slamming the man who he delivered the keynote address at RNC for.

Where does Mitt Romney land on all this? Not in Christie’s New Jersey and I’d say certainly not in the White House. His disregard of climate change doesn’t help him either. How does a man who wanted to slash an agency that has helped save lives and will continue to help the recovery of millions of people, can have anything to say after the truth is out? Mitt Romney is in worse shape than the Atlantic City. With more endorsements coming in for Obama: Christie’s indirect nod for Obama’s second term, Collin Powell’s endorsement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement — Mitt Romney looks mistrusted, and dishonest to the public. While Obama was touring New Jersey, Romney was holding fundraisers on the other side of the nation.

Americans have a choice to make in the next few hours. Will they vote for Mitt Romney who has changed his stance on almost every issue in the last few years? Or will they allow Obama a second term? Politics is a strange game, but I’ll go ahead and safely say that Sandy has swept away any chance of Mitt cruising his way into the White House because a swarm of voters, those that believe in helping one another in times of trouble will cast a tide on the polls and the only thing drowning in the bath tub will be chances of Mitt ever being president.

— Hemang Sharma

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