You may remember, prior to the election but after Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, that the New York Times pronounced that “A Big Storm Requires A Big Government”.
Of course, in the time since that pronouncement, we’ve seen “Big Government” show us that big bureaucracies are still just as unwieldy and unresponsive as they ‘ve always been, regardless of attempts to build a myth to claim otherwise.
Or said another way, FEMA’s response to Sandy has not been particularly impressive nor has it at all validated the New York Times editorial claim.
Of course, NE unions haven’t covered themselves in glory either:
Barry Moline, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said Long Island could have received 125 additional workers from utilities across Florida as soon as two days after the storm if a dispute about the letters had been resolved sooner. He said most of the crews from Florida who were available were nonunion and refused to join Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, even if only temporarily.
Crews that could have come to Long Island went instead to Pennsylvania, Moline said. “We could have been there on Wednesday, and instead we arrived on Sunday,” he said, after the union rescinded the requirement. [Emphasis added.]
But again, the story here is “Big Government” in general and FEMA – Big Government’s representative – in particular. How has FEMA done? Not as well as you’d expect, given the supposed failures of Katrina and the claimed lessons learned from that storm. It appears those lessons are still being learned.
It took days for FEMA to hit the ground in hard-hit parts of NYC. More than a week after the storm, FEMA representatives were just getting on the ground and opening temporary offices in New Jersey. When a nor’easter blew in, several of their offices shut down because of— wait for it— severe weather.
Huh. A week after the storm? Where’s the outcry?
Where are the news crews with weeping reporters telling us how horrible it is for the poor residents of Staten Island and spreading rumors about rape and murder? Nowhere to be seen.
But back to FEMA. FEMA is a bureaucracy, folks. A big bureaucracy. And big bureaucracies are neither responsive nor quick. It’s just a fact of bureaucratic reality. Expecting that to change is, well, simply a denial of reality.
So, you read stories like this:
“FEMA hasn’t done anything else. The inspector came out and he inspected the damage and that was it. He said he was going to forward it to his headquarters and I will hear from them, that’s it.” When asked if he has heard from anyone? Daily quickly responded, “No.”
And remember the promise to cut red tape?
“You have to get a copy from your landlord saying that it was your living space,” Jones said. “If you get denied (from flood insurance), get a letter in writing saying what (your insurance provider) won’t cover. Then submit that letter to FEMA and FEMA can send an inspector to inspect your home.”
In reality, it’s even worse than that:
Over the weekend, a source (who wishes to remain anonymous) reported that contractors contracted—as well as, generators, water, and other supplies paid for—by FEMA are being idled at New York’s Floyd Bennett Field by “red tape” requirements, while unions deploy their members and many storm victims sit in the dark.
While there are about 4,000 National Guardsmen at Bennett Field, there are hundreds of out-of-state contractors for FEMA, many of them linemen and electricians, that are not being deployed to help turn power pack on for residents because of the red tape.
On Sunday, out of the 400-500 workers available, according to the source, only three crews went out. Crews, he said, are usually two-man teams.
The union crews, the source stated, are free to come and go as they please, yet the non-union FEMA contractors are being held back because of red tape requirements.
The red-tape bottleneck, he said, comes from the Corps of Engineers. They get work orders in (places that need help), but the work orders don’t come out as they should.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the source said over the weekend.
On Sunday night, FEMA contractors put in one generator for a 14-floor building. Just one.
Immediately after the storm, beer maker Budweiser converted its beer lines in Georgia to produce water—44,000 cases of water. That water was trucked into the storm ravaged area, but much of it is still sitting as residents in across Brooklyn and in Far Rockaway, Queens continue to boil their water as of Saturday.
Even the NY Times hasn’t been able to completely ignore the debacle:
Two weeks. Monday was the 14th day since Hurricane Sandy upended lives on the Eastern Seaboard, the longest two weeks of many people’s lives. Plastic bottles. Warming buses. Charging stations. These are just a few of the signposts in a changed world. Help is coming, the people are told, but some have lost the desire to trust.
“I don’t believe,” said Lioudmila Korableva, 71, a resident of a darkened Coney Island building project filled with older people.
Meanwhile, smaller and more flexible and mostly private organizations have stepped in to try to make a difference.
Yup, a big storm needs a big government doesn’t it?
Sandy again proves the point that such thinking is simply wishful and has no basis in real fact.
Meanwhile the press is on to sex and tittilation. The Obama/Sandy photo op has passed and so has their interest in following up on the disaster, even though the parallels are amazing:
So: late warnings, confused and inadequate responses, FEMA foul-ups and suffering refugees. In this regard, Sandy is looking a lot like Katrina on the Hudson. Well, things go wrong in disasters. That’s why they’re called disasters. But there is one difference.
Under Katrina, the national press credulously reported all sorts of horror stories: rapes, children with slit throats, even cannibalism. These stories were pretty much all false. Worse, as Lou Dolinar cataloged later, the press also ignored many very real stories of heroism and competence. We haven’t seen such one-sided coverage of Sandy, where the press coverage of problems, though somewhat muted before the election, hasn’t been marked by absurd rumors or ham-handed efforts to push a particular narrative.
But hey, pointing that out now would destroy the “big storms require big government” myth, would it? And besides, we all know the election’s over. Screw the victims. The photo op is done. It’s the preservation of the myth that’s important.
Well now we know why, at least for some, Hurricane Irene was so hyped. It gave apologists for big government a chance to spin the response into plaudits for big government and a claim it is still necessary. Missing, of course, is any context or proportion. Those, like Dana Milbank and Steve Benen, just use the opportunity to bash small government conservatives in general and the Tea Party in particular.
And they brilliantly erect giant strawmen and then just flat tear them apart.
Tea Partyers who denounce Big Government seem to have an abstract notion that government spending means welfare programs and bloated bureaucracies. Almost certainly they aren’t thinking about hurricane tracking and pre-positioning of FEMA supplies. But if they succeed in paring the government, some of these Tea Partyers (particularly those on the coasts or on the tornadic plains) may be surprised to discover that they have turned a Hurricane Irene government back into a Katrina government.
Tea Partiers have a very specific notion of what government spending means to them and it certainly isn’t just centered in the canard of “welfare programs and bloated bureaucracies.” In case Mr. Milbank hasn’t noticed, his big government now owes more in debt than our economy produces in a year. That is the problem the Tea Party has with “big government”. And, frankly, that’s a problem Milbank should have with it too. Instead he spends a column touting big government using the pretext of a natural disaster (and government’s response to it) to attack those who object to the continuing deficit spending of big government. Instead, if had in sense, he’d be leading the charge to rein it in.
Stipulated, there are things that government can do because of government’s orientation. Wage war, for instance. But that doesn’t then excuse the excesses elsewhere. Nor does it justify its intrusion in areas it has no business being in. And it certainly doesn’t justify it spending more than it takes in. Those are the Tea Party’s objections to big government’s spending, Mr. Milbank. Please try to present them properly the next time you attempt the subject.
Of course nonsense like Milbank’s above lead to absurd conclusions in order to attempt to persuade:
The other model is to have a weak federal government, without the funds to forecast storms or to launch a robust emergency response in time to do any good. You might call that the Tea Party model.
Really. Who said anything about a “weak federal government”? I believe what the Tea Party is more interested in is a Constitutionally structured federal government that does its job, stays out of areas it doesn’t belong, and spends no more than the revenue it takes in. Oh yeah, and the real pesky part – doesn’t engage in social engineering.
As for Benen he seconds Milbank:
That Tea Party model, by the way, isn’t a hypothetical scenario — congressional Republicans are not only unwilling to provide emergency disaster relief without offsetting spending cuts, they’re also eager to cut the resources NOAA needs to track storms, while also slashing the FEMA budget.
This week, federal agencies are winning generally rave reviews, but if the public expects equally competent disaster response efforts in the future, Americans will have to hope the GOP agenda is rejected.
Oh, the horror – those dastardly Republicans want to actually not spend in a deficit mode. They want to live within the revenue stream that the federal government has coming in. Imagine wanting to offset spending in one area to ensure payment in another without borrowing money? Those simple Tea Partiers! Don’t they know that sometimes you just have to spend, spend, spend?
Uh, gee Mr. Benen, isn’t that what has gotten us into this mess in the first place? The fact that the government actually got something right for a change doesn’t then justify “big government”. What it does is demonstrate nothing more than every now and then a blind squirrel will find an acorn. Lord knows the fed has had enough practice it’s certainly something it should be getting right. But then, our military has been “getting it right” on disaster relief missions outside the country for years, decades even. It’s not like there wasn’t precedent. Yes, again stipulated, sometimes it takes a big organization to do what is necessary in a disaster to provide aid where needed. That said, that doesn’t excuse “big government”, spending excesses, waste, fraud, abuse, intrusion into areas the government doesn’t belong, social engineering via the tax code and other means and bankrupting the nation.
What is it about these types of apologists for big government that they don’t seem to ever be able to quite grasp those points?
The US Postal service has a financial problem. That’s not a surprise, especially is a time when the entire US government has a financial problem. Unlike the rest of the US government, the USPS is relatively limited in the amount of government money it can receive, and is more or less—and often less, granted—supposed to rely on postage to fund its operations. It still manages to get nice subsidies from the government, but even then it’s supposed to pay those back. Eventually.
In other respects, though, it operates like the rest of the government. Nice federal workers’ and union bennies, heavy bureaucracy, a monopoly on the service it provides, etc., etc. So, that makes it sort of a canary in the coal mine when it comes to government financing. Which makes this interesting:
The U.S. Postal Service would eliminate about 220,000 full-time jobs and shutter about 300 processing facilities by 2015 under a proposal to bring its finances in order, a postal official said on Friday.
The Postal Service needs to cut payrolls to about 425,000 employees and take over its retirement and health benefits instead of participating in federal programs, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told Reuters.
This will require abrogating union contracts on layoffs on retirements and health care, and restructuring its employment and benefit rules, close about 3,000 post offices, and contract out mail services to private organizations.
Naturally the unions are already screaming, as are some Democratic lawmakers.
Cry me a river. This is what financial reality looks like. This is the reality that’s coming to the rest of the Federal government in the not-too-distant future. Get used to it.
Rasmussen has a poll out that addresses the public’s feeling about government and job creation. To put it succinctly, they mostly think that government can best serve the public in that regard by cutting taxes.
Sixty-five percent (65%) say decisions made by U.S. business leaders to help their own businesses grow will do more to create jobs than decisions made by government officials. Twenty-five percent (25%) say decisions made by government officials to create jobs will do more.
So their faith in a government solution v. a private sector solution is obvious. As another survey points out, the public is “dubious” of the administration claimed success in aiding any economic recovery:
Just 33% say the economic stimulus passed by Congress last year has helped the job situation and only somewhat more (42%) say the loans the federal government provided to troubled financial institutions prevented a more severe financial crisis. Less than a third (31%) says that the government has made progress in fixing the problems that caused the 2008 financial crisis.
That means Democrats are unlikely to reap the political reward from an economic turnaround that they would like.
It goes without saying, dissatisfaction with the economy and government (and government’s efforts in behalf of the economy) mean political trouble for the party in power. It means even more trouble for that party when the people make clear their priorities for the party in power (jobs, the economy and the deficit) and that party ignores them (HCR, financial reform, cap-and-trade, etc).
Another interesting tidbit from the Rasmussen poll which shows how disconnected the “Political Class” is from “Mainstream Voters”:
Similar distinctions are evident in the views of Mainstream voters versus those of the Political Class. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Mainstream voters, for example, think decisions made by U.S. business leaders to help their own businesses grow will do more to create new jobs than job-creation decisions made by government officials. The plurality (47%) of Political Class voters have more confidence in the decisions made by government officials.
So how did a victorious Democratic party and a president swept into power on the “Hope and Change” platform become so tone deaf to what the public really wants?
Most, I’m sure, remember candidate Obama saying that one of the things he really wanted to do was make government “cool again”. And, one can imagine, he thought that was part of his and the Democrats mandate when he was elected. Of course, the underlying premise of a desire to make government “cool again” is the belief that government is the answer to most problems. Or more government is good government and good government is “cool”. They’ve accomplished the “more government part”, but it certainly certainly hasn’t translated into a perception of good government, has it?
Interestingly, David Brooks recently addressed that in an article saying:
In the first year of the Obama administration, the Democrats, either wittingly or unwittingly, decided to put the big government-versus-small government debate at the center of American life.
But Arnold Kling differs with that and I think what he says is more on the mark. His premise helps explain a lot, such as the Democratic tone deafness and their reaction to the emergence of the Tea Parties, etc. Talking about Brook’s statement above he says:
I would put this somewhat differently. The left decided that the debate was settled. They took the view that the financial crisis proved once and for all that markets do not work, and that wherever markets produce imperfect outcomes, government is the answer.
They, as many political parties have in the past, misinterpreted the outcome as a mandate to do what they perceived to be the desire of the people – expand the size, scope and cost of government – and set out on their merry way to do exactly that.
As it turns out, they were dead wrong. In fact, the term “dead wrong” doesn’t even begin to describe how wrong they were. Not only did the financial crises not support their interpretation, but – as with the “science” of AGW – nothing about the debate concerning the size, scope and cost of government was settled by their election. That’s not at all what the election was about – yet their own hubris wouldn’t allow them to see that. They decided to interpret it the way they found served their ideological best interest.
And they’ve blown it.
Recognizing that has to give one some hope. Americans are mostly rejecting big government and government solutions. Government is not “cool” again. And while the Democrats haven’t yet realized that, the GOP seems to be waking up to it – somewhat. They’re not there yet, and a certain number of them are as clueless as the Democrats, but I think the public is gearing up to smack many of those who are popularly known as “RINOs” around a bit in November as well (especially if they favor more government).
I think it is interesting though to consider this explanation as to why Democrats don’t seem to be able to get out of their own way and why they seem unable to change course and address that which the electorate really wants. All of that goes directly against the interpretation they gave the election of 2008 and they can’t yet admit to themselves, much less anyone else, that they were wrong.
UPDATE: If you don’t believe me, consider the commencement speech President Obama just delivered at the University of Michigan today:
President Obama on Saturday urged graduates at the University of Michigan to participate in public life as the president forcefully defended an activist role for government in dealing with society’s problems.
Don’t expect he or the Democrats to figure it out anytime soon.
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For the first time since 1975, Social Security recipients will not get a cost of living allowance increase in their Social Security check. Another in a long line of ominous indicators that, to quote President Obama’s favorite disavowed preacher, the fiscal “chickens are coming home to roost.”
We seem to have been living in a dream world for the last few decades where the majority of Americans ignored the reality and believed we could continue to increase the size of the welfare state forever with no ill consequences. The small coterie of realists claiming that it was indeed a fantasy world we were living in were declared alarmists who were using scare tactics and dismissed by the politicians.
Now, with huge deficits, we’re about to see the US go from one of the least-indebted developed nations to one of the most indebted. The IMF reports that for the US, general government debt as a percentage of GDP will rise from 63 percent in 2007 to 88.8 percent this year and to 99.8 percent of GDP next year.
That’s huge and, with the revised deficit of almost 10 trillion over 10 years, getting larger.
Even without the numbers and reports, Americans have increasingly come to understand that the government we have and the programs it funds through our tax dollars and massive borrowing are unsustainable. And, as I’ve pointed out, that realization has been brought to a head by the recent financial problems we’ve suffered and government’s reaction (under both the Bush and Obama administrations) to that problem. And yet the supposedly tuned-in Obama and the Democrats simply don’t seem to understand that, or, perhaps worse, don’t want to believe it, given the agenda they’ve undertaken. Matt Welch lays it out well:
After 11 months of federal bailouts and freakouts, Americans have become bone tired of panicky power grabs from Washington. It’s the big government, stupid.
The message of the various Tea Party protests, which predated this summer’s ahistorical media panic over town hall “lynch mobs,” has been pretty simple, says Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the nonprofit that has helped organize the protests, told Reason magazine this spring. “It was: stop spending so much money, stop borrowing so much money, and stop bailing out people who were irresponsible.”
It’s a reality that surely haunts the politically sensitive Obama administration: Ever since George W. Bush first tried to cram the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) down the throats of largely unwilling citizens, bailouts of failed institutions, from AIG to American Axle, have been enormously unpopular.
What Obama and the Democrats are left with then, when pursuing an agenda that is a naked attempt at even more government expansion, is a natural resistance that has been building since before this administration took office. Either the Democrats and Obama completely misread the election results and assumed a mandate that wasn’t at all present, or their natural hubris left them believing that even if that was the country’s attitude, they would be able to allay the fears and talk them into supporting more big government.
As is obvious, it’s not working. And the mood of the country seems to be at a point where it is swinging in exactly the opposite direction.
You have some Democrats who are realizing that – Senator Kent Conrad (D-SD) among them – who are talking about a vastly scaled back health care bill (I stick by my claim that Democrats realize they must pass something called “Health Care Reform” or the Obama presidency is DOA). But that too flies in the face of polling which says that a majority of Americans would like to see this version scrapped and for lawmakers to start over. The obvious implication of that poll result is the public is not happy with the size, depth of intrusion and cost of the current proposals.
Bill Clinton once famously said that the era of big government was over. And most cheered. But that turned out to be a mirage as Republicans took over, became Democrat-lite and expanded government yet again. Big government came back with a vengeance. As pointed out by Welch, the Tea Parties, which were the first public evidence of discontent within the country, began under George Bush and had absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama.
If, as with most protests, the protesters represent the tip of the iceberg, we may be seeing the political sea change that many government minimalists have been hoping for for decades.
The winning political issue is out there for the politician and party smart enough to grab it. Smaller and less expensive and intrusive government.
Who will grab it and how will turn it into a winner is at this point unknown. But Americans are very uneasy right now and their anger at being marginalized by their politicians and ignored is mounting. Not only is 2010 going to be a very interesting year, but depending on who emerges on the right and how they approach addressing this anger, 2012 could be equally as interesting.