September 13, 2017

Hurricanes Prove Why We Need Government

Georgia Report

Photo Credit: Nicole Adamson

Irma damage on West Lake Drive.

You may have heard this old saying: There are no atheists in foxholes. That aphorism means that when bullets are flying at you, and artillery shells are landing all around you, you will most likely be praying to some supreme deity to save your hide.

A similar saying derives from that one: There are no libertarians waiting on rooftops to be rescued from raging floods. That saying would hit home to any resident of Houston, who recently huddled on their rooftop hoping that some government agency would come by with a boat or helicopter to rescue them from the floods unleashed by Hurricane Harvey.

For years, I have heard my libertarian and conservative friends insist that all governments are corrupt and incompetent. If you’ll just get government out of the way and let the free market do its work, they say all our problems will be solved. It was the conservative Republican Ronald Reagan who said: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Hurricanes and other natural disasters serve as reminders that there are some things that can best be handled by the people who make up our local, state and federal governments. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, without the assistance provided by local police and firefighters, emergency medical technicians, National Guardsmen and other government employees, most of the people in peril would have drowned and been washed away.

Hurricanes and natural disasters serve another useful purpose for us: They shine a spotlight on the hypocrites who get elected to public office. In late October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit several Eastern states and dropped huge quantities of rainfall on them, very similar to the damage done now by Hurricane Harvey. Sandy caused more than $70 billion in property damage and resulted in 40 deaths. Most of the federal relief funding for Hurricane Sandy was contained in a $50.5 billion spending bill that Congress finally passed early in 2013. Of the 24 Republicans in Texas’ congressional delegation, 23 of them voted against passage of that funding bill, including Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

It should not be a huge surprise to anyone that the members of the Texas congressional delegation, including Cruz and Cornyn, are now seeking federal assistance to help rebuild Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. When Cruz was asked about his hypocritical stance, he replied: “The problem with that particular bill is it became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy.” That is a bald-faced lie. The Congressional Research Service issued a comprehensive report on the bill showing that nearly all of its provisions were related to the damage caused by Sandy. Several media organizations fact-checked the legislation and came to the same conclusion.

I’m sure Congress will pass an aid package for Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey—and some of the congressmen from New Jersey and New York, the states that were most affected by Hurricane Sandy, have said they will vote for it.

This column was written as Hurricane Irma approached Florida on a path that could possibly include Georgia and the Carolinas. Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency in 30 counties in southeastern Georgia and authorizing the call-up of 5,000 members of the National Guard to assist in response and recovery efforts. I don’t think anyone is going to accuse Deal of “overreaching” his authority by signing that executive order. No rational person is going to say that the money Georgia spends on its response to the hurricane is “pork barrel” spending. Nor should they.  

As with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Sandy, this is one of those times when we really need our government to be there.