COMMENTARY |It’s been a year since the GOP badly fumbled their Hurricane Sandy talking points. Yet some recent events from the government shutdown show that the party is no closer to coming up with an effective plan. They need one quick, as Mother Nature won’t wait.
During the 2012 election, Republicans were closing in on President Barack Obama, hoping to deny him a second term. After spending a spring and summer floundering around with a faux conservative identity designed to appeal to Tea Party types (who didn’t trust him anyway), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney reversed course.
With a new moderate outlook, Romney caught Obama off-guard at the first debate in Denver. The president was blindsided by this Romney 2.0 (or 6.0 with all of the flip flops). With respectable showings by Romney and Ryan in other contests, the election still seemed up for grabs.
When Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Northeast, pundits were quick to see the event as more bad news for the President, likening the megastorm to another Hurricane Katrina in waiting. And it would have been, had Obama been as aloof as George W. Bush was back in 2005. Instead of attending fundraisers as his predecessor had done, Obama suspended his campaign to deal with the disaster.
Now, I wouldn’t give the president a passing grade. I think he’d rate about a “C,” (a “B” for having to deal with a much tougher meteorological menace than Katrina, but much lower marks for the long time it took to get the power back on). But at least he didn’t flunk. And he was smart to give up valuable campaign time in swing states, when those voters could see him being presidential, which mattered more than yet another speech against yet another patriotic background.
But it was the opposite story with Romney. Though we knew about the storm for days as it approached the East Coast, the campaign couldn’t decide whether to suspend campaigning or not (they offered sort of a mixed hodgepodge response). Even worse for Republicans, Romney did not have a response to reporter questions about his May 2012 remarks, where he said he would get rid of FEMA and leave it up to states. He ducked their questions until three days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. Then he flip-flopped (again) from May, and said he would fully-fund FEMA. This triple-bogey contrasted strongly with Obama’s par, essentially ending the 2012 election.
You’d think Republicans would get their story straight and figure out where they stood on disaster relief. But again, they couldn’t figure it out over the past year. Both Oklahoma Senators voted against Hurricane Sandy aid, calling it a “slush fund,” even as they demanded disaster relief for the tornado that struck Oklahoma City. And conservative Rep. Steve Stockman, a Tea Party favorite, criticized Obama for shutting down FEMA just as Hurricane Kate was poised to strike his home state of Texas during the budget battle. And I thought the Tea Party was making claims that FEMA was running “death camps” in America.
Should the Republican fully support FEMA? Should they abolish it? Should they make states cover the costs? Should some states get federal aid and others not get it (based on voting history)? Should businesses get tax incentives to donate items for badly needed supplies (my own idea)? Regardless, the GOP needs a plan, before the next disaster strikes and the party gets caught flat-footedon disaster relief, again!
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.