If there is anything to remind people of why this election is important, it is Hurricane Sandy. The storm that is rattling lives on the East Coast has not been politicized by both the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney.
But with millions of people without power, hospitals evacuating patients in New York and New Jersey bracing for the unthinkable as Sandy continues to hit, it is important to understand why the federal government is crucial in national disaster response and why your vote on Nov. 6 will dictate how the federal government in the future responds in disasters of this magnitude.
The reason why Hurricane Katrina stood out in our mind as it consumed the lives of poor Blacks and others in New Orleans is not only because of the reckless oversight of clueless President George W. Bush, but the fact that the Bush administration diminished the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA, created by former President Jimmy Carter, was not a top priority for Bush and so the people in New Orleans received poor response and many died as a result. Victims of Hurricane Katrina and their relatives are still reeling from the storm and memories it left with them, shattering their dreams.
In the midst of Sandy, one of President Obama’s fiercest critics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, had nothing but praise for the president’s leadership over the disaster. Christie, a staunch Romney supporter, said, “The federal government’s response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president, personally. He has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area. The president has been outstanding in this. The folks at FEMA … have been excellent. I can’t thank the president enough for that.”
President Bush in a million years could not have received the kind of commendation Obama got this week from one of his harshest critics, Christie, because the Bush administration showed blatant incompetence in their response to Katrina.
When Obama took office he ensured that FEMA would remain a central part of the federal government and would not repeat the mistakes carried out during Katrina. The president demonstrated that this week.
But what would a President Romney do?
In a debate last year, Romney was asked whether emergency management should be the responsibility of the federal government or returned to states.
Romney said “absolutely” emergency management should be the responsibility of states, not the federal government.
“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better,” Romney said.
Basically, Gov. Romney is saying give cash-strapped states the sole responsibility of managing disaster relief like Hurricane Sandy or leave it to private contractors to make more money off victims of storms. He called it “immoral” for the federal government to step up and do what the Obama administration did this week because, according to him, it increases the debt.
So would a Romney administration have responded to Sandy the way Bush responded to Katrina? Very possible because Romney’s views on emergency management and natural disasters are in line with long-held Republican views that the federal government should not be in the business of natural disaster planning.
It’s easy to make that argument only if you or none of your relatives are victims of a natural disaster.
That is why this presidential election offers two very different visions for the country and the world. Romney’s views are not far from the Bush administration’s position on a number of issues.
In Detroit, the president’s actions have been crucial to the revival of General Motors and Chrysler, and in that regard, Romney advocated for the federal government to get out of it, just as he argued that disaster relief should be left to states which are already facing economic hurdles.
The choice could not be more clear and Hurricane Sandy brought it home clearly and succinctly. When millions of lives are on the line, people want the federal government to step up and play the role of the big brother.
No responsibility could be greater than saving millions of lives. And that is what President Obama demonstrated this week in responding to Sandy, earning the surprising, honest and repeated high praise of a die-hard Romney supporter, Gov. Christie.
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Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.