Sandy Exposes False God of Big Government

It shouldn't take a disaster to dispense with red tape and bureaucracy.

As the disaster of Hurricane Sandy continues to unfold, the Left's worship of big government is being revealed to be little more than bowing to a false idol. None other than the president himself illuminated the reason why. "From the earliest hours, I ordered that resources be made available to states in the path of the storm as soon as they needed them,” he said. “And I instructed my team not to let red tape and bureaucracy get in the way of solving problems--especially when it came to making sure local utilities could restore power as quickly as possible.” Last Tuesday, Obama offered the same message to the public while Sandy was still raging. “No bureaucracy. No red tape,” he said, as he promised to aid storm victims.

The reality on the ground, however, has been far different from the president's reassuring words. If residents of storm-struck areas were seduced by big government politicians into into putting all of their eggs into one basket, waiting for the all-powerful government to come to their rescue, they are surely learning that the promise of government salvation does not live up to its hype.

Perhaps no one has been less confidence-inspiring than NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg. This uber Nanny Statist, whose most recent big-government "triumph" was to bar restaurants, fast-food joints, delis, movie theaters, sports stadiums and food carts from selling sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces, initially decided to hold the New York City Marathon on Sunday, despite the ongoing suffering of millions. The callousness of this decision was underscored by a NY Post discovery that race officials had stashed away at least 41 power generators for the event, even as much of the city remained blacked out, and without adequate supplies of food or running water. After the newspaper's expose, Bloomberg was shamed into canceling the race--but not before the Manhattan-centric Mayor considered holding it entirely in that borough.

Meanwhile other boroughs, most notably Staten Island, continue to founder. Residents there claim other areas have been showered with attention, while they've been neglected. "You hope that the government does the right thing and steps in and helps us out. We have been looking for FEMA, [but] FEMA has not been here,” said resident Jodi Hannula, who claimed that 30 years of memories were washed away by flood waters.

FEMA's role in managing crises has ignited fierce debate, with the Left contending that the federal government should supplant the action of local and state governments, while the Right argues that decentralization, and sometimes privatization of such functions is the superior way to deal with disasters. The Left, as is often the case, interprets the Right's desire to reduce the size, scope, cost, and inefficiency of the federal government as tantamount to completely eliminating entities like FEMA, a conflation the NY Times attempted to make while the storm was still raging.

What the Right really wants is what America wants, in this case the most rapid response possible to those in need. The Heritage Foundation points out the folly of the federal-government-first mindset, with Matt Meyer noting that "annual FEMA disaster declarations have multiplied since the Clinton years and have reached a yearly average of 153 under Mr. Obama. That compares to 129.6 under George W. Bush, 89.5 under Mr. Clinton, and only 28 a year under Reagan.” Meyer reasons that because "FEMA is responding to more and more routine disasters such as tornadoes, fires, floods, snowstorms, and severe storms...FEMA’s resources are getting stretched thin, making the agency ill-prepared to respond to a large-scale, catastrophic disaster." Furthermore, since state and local governments have grown accustomed to "the federal government swooping in and picking up the check," they have "begun to trim their own emergency response budgets." In other words, "taking responsibility" is being shifted further up the bureaucratic food chain.

Yet there is more to it than that. The same mindset that accommodates the shift in responsibility that moves from the local to the national level with respect to government, seemingly produces legions of Americans who are equally willing to shift personal responsibility for their well-being “up the chain” to "someone else" as well. As a result, residents in several locations ignored orders to evacuate, even as many of them undoubtedly expected government to rescue them if things went wrong. Others have become increasingly angry that gasoline hasn't been delivered to their area in a timely manner, despite the logistical hardships involved in doing do. Even stations that have gas can't pump it without electricity, yet utility crews in Bridgeport, Connecticut were pelted with eggs after Mayor Bill Finch turned the restoration of power into a class warfare struggle, claiming wealthy suburbs were having their power restored at the city's expense. In Coney Island, a woman who claimed people were "defecating in hallways" also criticized the lack of government response. "There's been no Red Cross, no FEMA, no help at all for almost a week…I'm a taxpayer. I'm tired of getting treated like I don't exist."

Such anger stands in stark contrast to the reaction of residents in the Southeast during the storm that lashed Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky in 2010, causing massive flooding and 31 deaths, as well as the string of tornadoes that ravaged the South in 2011, killing 45. In both cases, media coverage was minimal at best, even as residents took it largely upon themselves to help each other. Some people in the Northeast have reacted in similar fashion. Yet one cannot help but wonder if the part of the country that has embraced the ethos of big government as much as any other has produced far greater numbers of people who expect government and others to take care of them, even as it slowly dawns on them that the government has a limited capacity to do so.

Unreasonable expectations may be the most devastating legacy of ever-expanding government. It is a legacy owned by the Left, which has fostered for decades the idea that people should depend on government to satisfy virtually all of their needs. Yet as of this writing, FEMA, despite its self-promoted "lean forward" strategy, failed to have enough fresh water or other supplies on hand for hurricane victims, forcing them to contract with private vendors to meet the area's needs--as early as Sunday. New Yorkers have been forced to arm themselves with bats, machetes and other weapons to stave off looters roaming in packs, due to a scarcity of police. More than two million people remain without power, unable to heat their homes as temperatures head for the 30s. Gas is being rationed in New Jersey. One of the biggest big-government champions, the New York Times, has been forced to concede that the "patchy recovery from Hurricane Sandy exposed a fractured region on Saturday." And President Obama, who was initially touting the great achievements government was making to meet the peoples' needs, refused to answer a reporter's question on Saturday regarding the mounting frustration of those same people.

It is irrelevant what questions the president does or doesn't answer. The people of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are slowly discovering for themselves the long-promoted leftist idea that bigger government equals more effective government is a lie. Exactly the opposite is true, and even the Left knows it, as evidenced by the president's reflexive calls to eliminate red tape and bureaucracy to cope with an emergency. When they've had time to reflect, the victims of Hurricane Sandy--and millions of other Americans as well--might wonder why it requires an emergency to dispense with such hindrances.

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