Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Monday, October 24, 2016

Whether natural or manmade, extreme events often tell us something important about human beings, revealing their priorities and reflecting their character. So it was with Hurricane Irene, which allowed certain prominent proponents of right-wing ideology to expose themselves in full.

Irene happily turned out to be an event far less extreme than expected, at least so far as most of the East Coast was concerned. But nobody could be sure of that until Monday afternoon. So while millions of people still had reason to fear much worse, two of the leading Republicans in Congress sought to use the approaching hurricane for their own partisan and ideological purposes — and exposed just how little they care about the suffering of Americans who might be unlucky enough to be struck by disaster.

It was an object lesson in what we can expect from the right in power — and an irritating reminder of how badly conservative government failed six years ago when Hurricane Katrina struck.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor set the tone earlier in the week, when he issued a statement following the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that sent tremors northward hundreds of miles from Richmond, VA — the state’s capital and his hometown. Always more eager to display ideology than compassion, Cantor told reporters during a tour of the quake’s damage in his district “the problem is that people in Virginia don’t have earthquake insurance.” Of course, earthquake damage is exceedingly rare in the East, so most homeowner policies don’t include such coverage (as any insurance expert could have informed Cantor). To him “the problem” is not that his constituents suffered unforeseeable destruction and needed relief, but that they were not sufficiently clairvoyant to buy protection in the private sector.

Then Cantor insisted that before Congress approves any federal support for the earthquake’s victims — a category of aid usually approved quickly and without debate — there will have to be cuts elsewhere in the budget. Last spring he made the same egregious demand, after a series of record-breaking tornadoes ripped through the Midwest and South, killing hundreds of people and inflicting billions of dollars in damage. Holding disaster victims hostage to his agenda of cutting Medicare and Social Security is simply legislative strategy to Cantor, presumably because he feels that they merit no assistance if they didn’t insure themselves in advance.

Only days after the earthquake, however, Cantor signed a letter from the entire Virginia Congressional delegation to President Obama, asking him to issue a federal disaster declaration for their state in anticipation of the oncoming hurricane. Such a presidential directive, said the letter, “would ensure the full partnership and resources of the federal government to support the commonwealth’s efforts to ensure the public’s safety and quick recovery from the direct and indirect effects of Hurricane Irene.” So in the final days before the hurricane struck, even callous Cantor got worried about its potential effects on his district — and wanted the federal government to commit resources in advance for its recovery. This time he forgot to demand any budget cuts to offset such spending, which suggests that he is hypocritical as well as mean.

Then came Ron Paul, the Texas Congressman and persistent presidential wannabe, who laughed when asked on Fox News whether the government ought to help hurricane victims. “Where would the money come from?” he chortled. “I have precise beliefs in [sic] what we should do and I want to transition out of dependency on the federal government.”

Even more extreme than Cantor, Paul said he believes that we cannot afford to assist anyone injured or ruined by natural disasters, and that the nation would be better off without any federal relief efforts (and without environmental protections of any kind, or any regulation of the safety of food, pharmaceuticals, consumer products or transportation).

“We should be like 1900,” Paul said, without mentioning how brutish, dangerous and short life tended to be for most Americans back then.

To insist that we must revert to a more primitive and predatory way of life may well be Republican dogma these days, but it isn’t the ideal of America that most citizens have cherished for the past century or so. The coming elections will test whether traditional standards of community and decency — in other words, our national character — can survive the advent of the Tea Party.

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2011 The National Memo
  • Richard Bell

    sic ’em, Joe…(typo in the first sentence of the last paragraph)

  • fredjberglawoffice

    To the debate. Insightful as always, Joe’s comments reveal the apparent and logical holes in the arguments that get purloined in the media without proper objectivity. Appreciate the posting. (Typo in the last sentence, but no matter to this reader.)

  • Christian and Liberal

    Obviously Mr. Paul is either not a Christian or he failed to read what Jesus said. What Jesus said is pretty clear to me. He said “Whatever you have done unto the least of these you have done so unto me.” Shame on Mr. Paul and shame on the Tea Partiers.

  • Christian and Liberal

    Shame on Mr. Cantor as well.

  • tbald

    This article of Joe Conason’s should be widely destributed because, in my opinion, it gives an accurate indication of how the Republicans with Tea Party support would plan to govern if the electorate were foolish enough to be taken in by their pious blather.

  • Dik

    Mr. Conason;

    Government does have a role in preserving life and property, and restoring public services. It does not, however, have the right under the constitution, to restore assets or insure those assets resulting after a natural disaster. To do so creates a moral hazard in which people take no precautions but rely on money taxed from their fellow citizens to make the whole again. That would be a prescription leading to financial ruin for us all.

    Dik Thurston
    Colorado Springs

  • historyfan

    They are not Christians and neither are they following the Constitution and the values that have always held this country together (nor were we founded as a Christian nation, despite claims from some rightwingers. Citizens are entitled to life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness. The Constitution pledges that the government protect the common welfare of the state (the United States), and that means protection not just from enemies, but wholesale destruction over which individuals have no control.
    This country was also founded on values of the common good and compassion for each other–commitment to the social contract, which people seem to have forgotten.

  • peteserb

    typical left wing bias. if the Progressives are so dam smart. Why wasn’t earthquake insurance legislated like Obummer care was. Hell what’s another 1.4 trillion!!!!

  • debodisco

    The Muscle head in California ask for earthquake help for Govt only

    We had 10,000 plus in damage but what would the crazy earthquake damage insurance do
    5000 plus premium and high deductable. If we are going to help the east then we need to do it evenly. The windbags talk out of both sides of their mouth. Best

  • Reney100

    Mr. Conason:

    I grew up in a world where family helped family, neighbors helped each other, churches helped their members. No one looked for a handout, just a hand up.

    Natural catastrophes have happened throughout history and will continue to happen. There is nothing we can do about them because we can’t control our planet. But what we can control is how we all work together to help each other. Governments don’t need to do that – people (you and me) need to do that.

    We cannot continue to grow government on the backs of the middle class (which is what will happen). And, perhaps, if we start taxing the rich more, they will just pick up and leave (because they can and we can’t). That’s not to say that there should be more paid by the rich – but how much is enough??? I did some research the other day and found that if we take ALL the assets of the top 2% of this country, we could only fund our current government expenditures for maybe 5-6 months. What then?? Who picks up the tab?

    Thomas Jefferson said:

    Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have … The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases.

  • DavidMeo

    The Premalink comment by Reney100 commented…”The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases”. To that I say, “PROVE IT using democratic governments – not autocracies or fascist governments as your examples”.
    Further… in a democratic (or republican) government, “GOVERNMENT” is simply what WE THE PEOPLE do together. The underlying assumption behind Reagan’s honored dictum that “Government IS the problem” in a government “by..for…and of the People” (Abraham Lincoln) …is that the People ARE the Problem…and this gets to the HEART of the Republican FALLACY…the billionaire puppeteers of the Republican Party and the economic generators of the Tea Party, if probed to their hearts would have to admit that for them, the PEOPLE ARE THE PROBLEM. When they protest that LIBERTY is being infringed upon by GOVERNMENT what they really mean is that their liberty to do whatever they damn well please to engorge their benefits, regardless of the consequences imposed upon the LIFE, LIBERTY, and PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS of the rest of us, THE PEOPLE, is a governmental violation of ALL OF US. The Tea Party and the Republican Party are foisting upon us a verbal SHELL GAME. In bawling about the government’s(read WE THE PEOPLE) impositions upon their liberties they are simply distracting from the more important reality of their responsibility to temper their designs in consideration of the rights and liberties of the rest of us. Please remember…in a democracy WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT.

  • Avi Zenilman

    I don’t know why anyone bothers to type out such a collection of moldy cliches. We cannot continue to grow government — when actually taxes are lower than they have been in decades. We cannot tax the rich because they will pick up and leave (where will they go? every other country has higher taxes). We should help each other, not government, a hand not a hand out, etc. Where have I heard all this crap before?
    See Conason’s post on Wednesday morning. If you’re interested in real history and facts you’ll find them there…

  • me too

    The Constitution, without the amendments considered women and blacks as propety! I don’t want to go back to that!

  • internetb4e4

    Hey there folks I just finally got about to signing up for this online community – :). Getting excited about joining with this specific modest community right here. I had been looking around for a long time for something that might fit the bill plus it had taken me a little while however right now I look forward to communicating with those who are like-minded.