Jonathan Chait on politics and Sandy:
Disasters are inherently political, because government is political, and preventing and responding to disasters is a primary role of the state.
Yes. It’s completely legitimate that the parties disagree on, for example, funding FEMA. There’s a perfectly reasonable argument that government should spend less on basically everything. In the abstract, that’s an argument with which many Americans agree — government spends too much! The problem for Republicans is that Americans also support, and in fact want more of, almost everything that government actually does: education, health care, Social Security, you name it (even the handful of things that people think should be cut, such as foreign aid, are problematic; if you ask people how much should be spent, they usually want more than it turns out is actually being spent now).
Chait notes that Democrats are probably going to campaign on FEMA for the next week, and they’ll be attacked for exploiting a tragedy. What’s the reasonable response? Reporters shouldn’t fall for it. Truth is, if Democrats aren’t allowed to talk about programs they support, then Republicans shouldn’t be allowed to talk about cutting spending. I somehow doubt that Team Romney would agree to that one.
More broadly: Chait is exactly correct that politics is critical to the story of Hurricane Sandy and the damage it causes. And not just because of emergency management after the fact, although that’s important. Politics is involved in building codes; in transportation, energy, water, and other infrastructure; in weather forecasting; and even in where people live in the first place. To the extent that climate change affected the storm, that’s politics too. Rich nations tend to survive these things a whole lot better than poor ones do, but rich nations don’t just happen; that, too, is politics. Is it true that “preventing and responding to disasters is a primary role of the state?” That, too, is a legitimate question that the parties can differ on.
Of course we should debate and discuss such things during elections. Indeed, if we take all of that off the table, it’s not clear why we would want a democracy in the first place.