We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960. I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district.
The Texas congressman and serial Republican presidential candidate uttered this comment just ahead of Hurricane Irene making landfall over the weekend on the East Coast.
Call it Ron Paul’s “pre-buttal” against the storm, but there he was telling his fellow Americans anxiously waiting to face Irene that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) just wasn’t necessary.
We should just be more like the year 1900, huh?
Paul ought to know better.
He brags of representing Galveston, so he should know that in 1900 a Category 4 hurricane hit the city full force. An estimated 8,000 or more people died in that storm. The death toll was so great that corpses were loaded onto carts for burial at sea. Other bodies were simply stacked and burned in funeral pyres. Of those who lived, 30,000 were left homeless.
Government assistance in those days amounted to handing out free whiskey to the men drafted into the effort to clear the dead bodies.
Compare that to the response to Irene. The agency which Paul deemed so unnecessary has been providing Americans in need with such supplies as fresh water, meals, and more.
The federal government deployed urban search-and-rescue and medical-assistance teams, as well.
Certainly, one has to go back just six years to recall the poor response FEMA and the federal government provided to those afflicted by Hurricane Katrina. But what most Americans want and expect is a competent response, not no response at all.
And, although Paul criticizes FEMA specifically, one has to wonder what he thinks about all of the other federal investments that helped Americans through the hurricane — investments that most probably took for granted and didn’t give even a second thought to.
The National Weather Service, for instance, which led the way in predicting the storm — just as it predicts our weather every other day of the year.
Or how about the satellites, GPS, and other advanced technologies which helped first responders, state and local officials, and others all respond to — and mitigate — the effects of the storm? We have them only because the federal government invested billions of dollars the government spent over decades to develop them.
Perhaps in his nostalgia for the last year of the 19th century, Paul would do away with all of that, too.
To be sure, 48 deaths were attributed to Hurricane Irene — and each one represents a terrible tragedy.
But 48 dead compared to 8,000 or more? That’s an easy call.
Unlike Ron Paul, I have a hard time waxing nostalgic for “good ol’ days” when so many people died in a hurricane that their corpses had to be stacked like so much cordwood.
And unlike Paul, I understand that when our government has an obligation for the “common defense,” that includes whatever defense it can provide against disaster.
They say the 2012 election will bring a stark choice over the role of the federal government. Ron Paul’s attack on even a basic federal response to natural disaster certainly puts that choice in even clearer relief.
As someone who in the last week lived through both the East Coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene, I’ll take 2011 over 1900 any day.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Hurricane-Force Politics: Ron Paul Nostalgic For 1900, The Year a Big One Killed 8,000 on Blogcritics.