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Lowman Henry
Lowman Henry

Lincoln Blog

by Lowman S. Henry

Role of Government in Storm Response

October 30, 2012

Leave it to the New York Times (America's version of Pravda) to turn Hurricane Sandy into a political weapon against Mitt Romney.

The Times editorialized that "big storms require big government." Had they stuck with the premise that one of the few rightful roles of government is to ensure public safety, the Times would have been onto something. Instead, they took the occasion of a natural disaster to attempt a scoring of political points by reaching back to comments Mr. Romney made in a debate last spring saying he thinks disaster response is best handled by the states.

Note that Mr. Romney did not say there was no role for the federal government, just that it is best handled by states. If you look at the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina - which was badly botched - and compare that to the subsequent handling of major hurricanes by Governors Jeb Bush in Florida and Rick Perry in Texas, the states beat the feds hands down.

The fact is when a disaster on the scale of any of these hurricanes hit it takes effective action by all levels of government. And, first responders - those at the local level - should be given priority when it comes to calling the shots. County emergency management officials and state-level emergency managers know their territory best. They know what they need and when. The federal government's role should be to bring in the resources requested by states and counties. In short, it should be a bottom-up response with all levels of government working in concert.

One point the Times, of course, overlooked is the contribution to disaster response made by the civic and religious sectors. In watching local coverage of Sandy I noticed many of the shelters and other services are being provided by faith-based organizations and local nonprofit groups. In the aftermath of this storm, as with all the others, you can bet hundreds of millions of dollars will be willfully donated to charities and churches who will rush in with aid and comfort. That will not happen because of any government. That will happen because it is the essence of what we are as a nation. In a time of crisis Americans pull together to help each other.

The New York Times has missed the point and it does the nation a disservice by trying to score cheap political points off the suffering of those in Sandy's path.

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