Rachel Maddow refuted the conservative notion that government doesn’t matter by pointing out that Hurricane Sandy is one of those times when government really matters.
We are used to calls to civic responsibility at this point on the American calendar. When we get asked by candidates, when we ask each other to go vote, we are asking each other to do something that is honestly inconvenient and sometimes time consuming and difficult. Something that has very little individual personal payoff, but it is something that your country needs you to do. Your country, your city, your state need you to do this thing. That is true about voting. It is as true now as it is any year, maybe even more so, as many places make voting so much harder. And now even more than that, as voting may become more of a challenge in the dozen states or more that will coping with this storm tonight and through Election Day.
But in this storm this year, we are also being reminded of other kinds of civic responsibility that we are being called on to exhibit in difficult times. Do what’s right not just for you alone, but do what’s right for all of us. We need to pull together. You need to think of yourself as something that is part of larger than just yourself. It is both totally apolitical, and it is the very core of why we bother with politics in the first place. This is one of those times when government really matters. When we remember that elections are about picking a government. This is one of times when leaders really have to show that they are leaders, and they have to call on the best from all of us.
The idea that natural disasters are tests of leadership is very new. Presidential leadership during a time of natural disaster was largely a foregone conclusion in the era since the development of the federal disaster relief system. Until Katrina and George W. Bush, the American people assumed that their government would be there to help when disaster struck. Since America got a chance to see the cost of poor leadership, natural disasters have become a time for leaders of both parties at all levels of government to show their competence. Nobody wants to pull a Bush, so nothing is taken for granted when Mother Nature unleashes her fury.
At times such as these, the American people are reminded of the value of good leadership, and the power of singular purpose that can bring us all together as a nation. Events like Sandy remind us of why we have a government, and why who we pick to lead that government is so important. Governors both Republican and Democratic are looking to Washington, DC for leadership, resources, and aid.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama present us with a choice about how we would like our government to respond in times like these. Romney wants to privatize FEMA, and slash disaster relief funding by 80%. The Republican presidential candidate wants states to control their own disaster relief. He doesn’t believe in a federal role in disaster relief. The Democratic incumbent president believes in the traditional role of the federal government in disaster relief and aid.
As we see or deal with the storm’s damage and destruction, it reminds us of both why government matters, and why it matters when we participate in the selection of the individuals who will combine to serve the people in a governmental capacity. Government always matters, but it matters even more when the American people need leadership most.
Politics may not matter right now, but when the chips are down, good government and leadership can be the difference between life and death for Americans caught in the path of a natural disaster.