Over at Slate, there's an article headlined "Washington Man Wearing Anti-Government T-Shirt Thanks Firefighters for Saving His Home." The article is based on a news photo of a man in Washington state who's wearing a T-shirt from the conservative grassroots group FreedomWorks that says "Lower Taxes + Less Government = More Freedom," shaking hands with firefighters. According to Ben Mathis-Lilley, this is supposedly an example of hypocrisy, as a number of state, local, and federal agencies are involved in fighting the forest fires that have been burning as of late in Oregon and Washington. And apparently it's hypocritical enough that a private citizen must be made an object of national ridicule immediately after narrowly avoiding the destruction of his home.
To state the obvious, conservatives advocate "less government," not no government. I am quite certain that fire departments and combatting natural disasters are very likely near the top of the list of things that conservatives are happy and eager to fund, to say nothing of the unseemly journalistic tendency of attacking private citizens for the sake of clickbait.
Apparently, Mathis-Lilley was feeling some blowback because he decided to update his post to justify his substanceless argument:
To be clear, I understand that FreedomWorks has not literally called for the elimination of public fire departments. (If it did, it wouldn't be the first time that proposal has been made by a libertarian group or activist.) FreedomWorks has, however, opposed funding for federal disaster relief funding of the sort that Washington state has requested and received from FEMA to fight ongoing fires in the Okanogan area. FEMA also paid for more than $2 million in fire-related infrastructure repairs in Okanogan County in 2014.
Again, Mathis-Lilley finds himself flailing for a justification. He's certainly exposed quite a bit of ignorance about FEMA and the perfectly sensible reasons why conservatives take issue with the agency. For one thing, FEMA did not exist before 1979, and yet, states and the federal government still managed to fight forest fires and coordinate disaster relief without it. But since the agency's inception it's largely turned into a vehicle for distributing pork. I explained this in a WEEKLY STANDARD editorial a few years back:
Created in 1979, FEMA was originally intended to help citizens in the event of a nuclear attack. In 1988, the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act clarified that federal emergency declarations—and the FEMA money accompanying such requests—should be based on a finding that events are “of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments.” Since then, Congress has never given specific guidance for what qualifies as a federal emergency.
For all the Bill Clinton nostalgia this election season, discussing FEMA is a sobering reminder that one of his real gifts was convincing people he was a good president rather than being one. As chronicled in Feeling Your Pain, James Bovard’s book on federal bureaucracy in the Clinton years, the former president exploited FEMA’s lack of a clear mission to transform the agency into a vehicle for patronage and pork. Clinton ballooned the agency to the point where it had 10 times as many political appointees as comparable federal agencies. (Clinton even appointed former Arkansas state trooper Raymond “Buddy” Young southwest regional FEMA director; Young would later be deposed in the Paula Jones lawsuit.) By the end of his presidency, Clinton was declaring a federal disaster somewhere in the country every week on average. Naturally, this resulted in defining disaster relief down. Following a California earthquake in 1994, FEMA sent out 47,000 unsolicited checks—a total of $142 million—to homeowners for no other reason than they lived in supposedly affected ZIP codes.
After nine years and $247 million, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) new high-tech disaster relief system may not work as intended, according to a new report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In our November 25, 2013, issue, Jonathan V. Last chronicled the story of Ocean Grove, the New Jersey shore town which was being denied FEMA relief funds to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy. The problem was that Ocean Grove was originally settled as a Methodist campsite and that the town remains nominally Christian—which is to say that it is governed by a “Camp Meeting Association,” which has roughly the power of a garden-variety homeowner’s association. But which also happens to own all of the land.
A reporter today asked the White House why folks in New Jersey and New York still don't have power "weeks" after Hurricane Sandy:
"Well, I would point you to the substantial and fast effort that the president oversaw in terms of the federal response to this terrible storm," White House press secretary Jay Carney said, dodging the question. "And I think that that effort ... has been documented."
It has been a little more than a month since Hurricane Sandy made landfall and pounded the Atlantic shores of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Within hours, government big dogs, the president included, were on the scene promising speedy and comprehensive relief. When they left to attend to campaigning and other business, the bureaucrats arrived and took over. Now, things proceed slowly and in the usual fashion.
As people in New York were suffering and hospitals were being evacuated, the New York Times editorial page seized the occasion to score political points: “Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of ‘big government,’ which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it.” This was dishonest partisan spin.
President Obama comes to work, conducts a few conference calls on Hurricane Sandy, holds a press conference, and later travels to New Jersey to survey the damage caused by the storm. In doing so, he performs a job expected of him as president.
A host of liberal politicians and pundits have taken House Republican leader Eric Cantor to task for daring to insist that any disaster spending allocated to pay for the damage done by Hurricane Irene be offset in the budget elsewhere. They view Cantor as injecting politics into the country’s disaster management programs.
Today, in the Post Dana Milbank makes a fairly bold assertion:
Don’t expect anybody to throw a tea party, but Big Government finally got one right.
Milbank is, of course, talking about how the the federal government's response to Hurricane Irene was a smashing success. The hurricane hit landfall just ten miles off from where NOAA had predicted, and Milbank notes that FEMA and NOAA both got "high marks" for their response to the hurricane.
Michael D. Brown says he got a bad rap. With the statement, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” on September 2, 2005, George W. Bush made Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the name and face of governmental incompetence after Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast. Ten days later, Brown resigned.