Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas and a contender (once more) for the Republican nomination for president, took occasion on Friday to tell folks that he didn’t care for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
To be clear, this was Friday, Aug. 26 – the day before Hurricane Irene made landfall, battered much of the East Coast and claimed at least 20 lives.
Before Irene hit, FEMA deployed, organizing resources across multiple state and municipal jurisdictions – an extremely daunting task. Towns often disagree with one another, as do states. Even communities within those towns disagree. For FEMA, that means getting through the bureaucracy to make sure that Americans have food, water, shelter and other necessities when pounded with disaster (usually natural, sometimes industrial or otherwise).
Paul told people in New Hampshire – where Irene would blow in two days later – that in Texas, folks from FEMA “only come in and tell you what you can and can’t do.” And if there’s one thing Texans can’t stand, it’s somebody telling them what they can and can’t do.
Paul’s comments also come almost six years to the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, destroying about three-quarters of all the housing units in the city of New Orleans. Three-quarters. That’s 75 percent. That means that only every third housing unit was left standing.
FEMA failed, badly, in its preparation and response to Katrina. They told folks to leave, but did little to help them get out of Katrina’s way. After the hurricane wrecked the city, FEMA – under the direction of then-Administrator, who was a lawyer whose highest-level appointment before running FEMA was as the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association – FEMA invested almost $3 billion to purchase about 145,000 trailers to house 770,000 displaced people (trailers that were later determined to have levels of formaldehyde so high that people could not safely live in them).
In 2006, a congressional report illustrated the utter failure of FEMA’s preparation and reaction to the storm.
However, we must realize that the FEMA of 2005 was not like the FEMA of any time past or present. As Irene began to swirl up the New England coast, states and communities were ready. Evacuations had been put in place, shelters were open, and the recovery from the storm is already in motion.
Texas is an exception to many rules. We don’t think of Texas as a costal state, but it consumes quite a bit of coastline along the Gulf Coast. So much so, in fact, that state agencies are often able to coordinate storm preparedness and response without much federal oversight. Where you need federal assistance is in places where multiple states will be impacted – like Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana along the coast, or the great many states in the Northeast that have been struck by Irene.
Of course, Paul in a unilateralist when it comes to the federal government. That is, if it’s government, it’s bad. Despite the fact that he completely lacks credibility when it comes to national politics due to his fundamentalist philosophy, people still listen to his rants. To sell people in the path of a hurricane that the very agency tasked with their protection is a waste at worst and superfluous at best is almost evil. You know what? Strike that. It’s evil.
Paul tried to make political gumbo on the back of an agency that had worked around the clock to save American lives and preserve communities. Rather than taking the opportunity to play pied piper to people in harm’s way, he would have been better served asking folks to heed FEMA’s warnings and – in line with his philosophy of self-determination – do what they could to be ready independent of FEMA.
In the months to come, we’re going to hear a lot about government waste and federal agencies that ought to be dissolved. It’s true, there is waste, and there is overlap between agencies that can be made more efficient. But to completely remove government from areas where government is the only thing standing between ourselves and ruin is idiocy. The problem with Ron Paul is that Ron Paul is too stupid to know better.