By Chez Pazienza: I’ll make this kind of quick since I’m slammed with work right now and I’m trying to ensure that I manage to get out from behind my desk for Halloween tonight. (For the record, since I spend all my time staring at my computer, contemplating politics and alternating between fits of crying and general mania while I listen to Monk, I’m figuring Carrie from Homeland is a good choice for a costume this year.) Yesterday over at my site, Deus Ex Malcontent, I mentioned something in a quickie post that I think deserves to be elaborated on a little because it’s a subject I’ve yet to see anyone really bring up in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Right now Mitt Romney is receiving a fair amount of blowback from comments he made last year about FEMA. Campaign reporters are pressing him to clarify the position he took during a CNN Republican presidential primary debate in June of 2011 when asked whether he’d be willing to help shore up the financial solvency of FEMA; it was an especially relevant question given that a tornado had recently descended on Joplin, Missouri, killing 150 people. Romney, as you know, said that if given his way, he’d send the majority of disaster relief back to the states or even to the private sector. Both of these moves would further compound the disasters that FEMA is in place to help Americans in the wake of — the former because the states have neither the resources nor the overwhelming authority to coordinate a relief effort for, say, the millions affected by Hurricane Sandy, and the latter because the last thing you want to do during a life-and-death crisis is turn the decision-making over to an entity as soulless as the free market.
Yesterday, when a gaggle of political reporters tried to ask Romney whether he really was in favor of either abolishing FEMA outright or choking it to death through budget cuts, he wouldn’t respond. At one point, a pool correspondent shouted to Romney, “Governor, you’ve been asked 14 times — why are you refusing to answer?” Romney never did budge, although his campaign backpedaled from the original comment and said that their guy had no intention of shuttering FEMA. It was the obvious, politically expedient position to take, considering that FEMA was at that very moment effectively putting together an almost unimaginable effort to aid the entire Eastern Seaboard.
But the fact remains that Romney would decimate FEMA if elected — because FEMA is a governmental agency and the government is an intolerable evil to today’s Republicans, an affront to American individualism and personal responsibility that should be put asunder whenever and wherever possible. This overarching article of faith extends well beyond big, robust entities like FEMA, though. These days, Republican ire and derision is aimed not simply at the programs and agencies themselves but at the average people working for them. And that’s why I’m curious that no one has, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, forced Romney, Ryan and the rest of the Republican deficit-hawks and archenemies of government to confront another of their recent public crusades.
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen something truly unprecedented in American — and specifically conservative — politics: the outright demonization of once-revered government employees. Real people who do real jobs performing a real and necessary service. I’m talking about teachers, police and firefighters. Police. Firefighters. You know — first-responders. The people who were out there two nights ago putting their lives on the line as a monster storm was pummeling places like New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
This unconscionable show of disrespect has manifested itself in the dismissal of the 9/11 first-responders bill, which Paul Ryan voted against, as “a massive new entitlement program”; the crushing of teachers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin; the reduction of pension payments to firefighters and the laying off of thousands of police officers in, ironically, New Jersey; and a general willingness to insult local and state workers as being a overpaid burden on the middle class.
And it’s that last one that really hurts. It’s not simply that, with financial considerations on the line, everyone needed to be prepared to share in the pain (everyone, that is, except the ultra-wealthy, who always seem to be insulated from sacrifice in any Republican budget crackdown); it’s that those teachers, firefighters and police were turned into a public whipping post, cast as greedy moochers, ungratefully living high on the hog with government pay and benefits while everyone else struggled. For a good portion of the run-up to the 2012 presidential race, the news cycles were dominated by tales of how the people who keep us safe, run into burning buildings for us and educate our children were really our enemy.
In fact, it was only four months ago that Mitt Romney said this:
“(President Obama) says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
If yours was one of the 70 homes on fire two nights ago in Breezy Point, Queens, those government employees stared down 80-mile-an-hour winds, waded through waist-deep water and used row boats to save your ass. They carried you down ten flights of stairs in the dark if you were a patient at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and needed to be evacuated because the entire complex had lost power; they cradled you in their arms if you were one of the 20 NICU babies whose incubators had failed. They patrolled flooded streets in the blinding rain, cracking open cars in Lower Manhattan to make sure you weren’t drowning in one of them.
They did their jobs — and as usual, they did them exceptionally.
Show a little fucking respect, Mitt.