Mitt Romney held a photo op in Kettering, Ohio, “accepting donations” for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Many items were purchased by campaign staffers from a nearby store and attendees to the rally-turned-relief-effort were asked to bring non-perishable foods and other items for those affected by the super-storm.
Some organizations, while they appreciate assistance from the public, find that stockpiling goods and other items an ineffective way to engage in disaster relief. The American Red Cross is asking for financial donations in the wake of Sandy. If the Romney campaign wanted to best immediate impact, they would have far better served the relief effort by contributing $5,000 in cash instead of spending it on supplies.
Anyone who has ever volunteered for relief efforts following a disaster knows that it only adds work to the relief organizations of their volunteers have to collect canned goods and granola bars. Today’s informed volunteer raises funds so experienced organizations can fund local efforts on the ground and don’t have to lug around often useless items.
In addition, Romney was photographed loading what “appeared to be multiple bags of uncooked rice” onto a truck. What good is uncooked rice for people whose power has gone out?
This is both clueless and heartless.
Biblically speaking, “hardness of heart” causes a lack of understanding. (Ephesians 4:18) In other words, when you are not acting out of compassion, but self-interest, ignorance will surely follow. You don’t care enough to find out what people actually want and need.
In disasters, people want and need rapid and effective government action, in coordination with state and local efforts and experienced relief organizations supported by financial donations from compassionate Americans.
Large-scale disasters such as the megastorm “Sandy,” which covered numerous states, require enormous government and local professionalism in this coordination. Republican as well as Democratic governors understand this. Indeed, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has gone out of his way to praise President Obama and the Obama administration’s effectiveness through FEMA.
Following the “relief” event, however, Romney refused to answer reporters’ questions on whether he would eliminate FEMA, as he had previously indicated. During a CNN debate during the GOP primary, debate moderator John King specifically asked candidate Romney if he would end the federal agency for disaster relief.
“Absolutely,” said Romney. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”
And what you get with the Romney model, especially the “privatization” of disaster relief as was on display in the Romney “relief” event, is a pile of canned goods and no effective relief.
A compassionate heart knows this.
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress .