Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Politics is as personal as ever, day 15: Wickid Big Government

          Is it just me or does watching coverage of the devastation in New York bring back haunting memories of September, 2001?  It's such a surprise to remember that a place with so much muscle can be as vulnerable as it is.  And this time at the mercy of nothing more than weather.  When I think about the experience of having a baby sick in the hospital (that will be tomorrow's post so stay tuned), I remember how exhausting it was.  How it just took all of our brainpower to make the right decisions that would keep our kid alive.  When I superimpose upon that experience Super Storm Sandy conditions--no power, no transportation, 85 mile an hour winds, streets flooded with water, sideways rain--and imagine my baby about to be carried down nine flights of stairs to an ambulance, and then to a different hospital, and through hallways a mile long, and elevators, and another room that needs to be cleaned before we can settle in...  Honestly, if I could give my heart to the parents of those children I just might do it.  Because I can't imagine theirs will last much longer than the generators.
         I grew up on the East Coast and remember only two hurricanes to speak of from my youth.  They were called Gloria and Bob.  Having never lived through a hurricane before, I was a little anxious about Gloria's arrival.  My mother comforted me with stories of the only really big hurricane she could remember in her lifetime.  That one was called Carol and it touched down in 1954.  And of course there are pictures of me beside towers of snow during the Blizzard of '78.  And my dad always talks about the Blizzard of '88 when his grandparents came over from Ireland.  That's 1888.
          So, I'm not a meteorologist, or historian, or climate scientist, but I do have a really good memory.  And by my count the number of natural disasters that have befallen our country during the life of my nine-year-old daughter outnumber all the rest that occurred during my lifetime plus those passed on through oral folklore from the entire previous century.
          I'm not kidding myself, I know I'm not the first person to notice all this, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway: seems like this is a trend.
          And as tempting as it is, I'm not going to tell you that Mitt Romney is so dumb he hasn't picked up on this trend and is going to throw FEMA in the dumpster with our big yellow-feathered friend.  He did seem to say something to that effect (see the transcript) but that was a year and a half ago.  And as tempting as it is, I'm not going to say that Mitt Romney could easily change his mind six times since June 2011, so there's no need to fear he'd get rid of FEMA.  I'm not going to say those things, because I don't actually think they are the real problem.
          Because the problem is not mind-changing.  Mind-changing can be a sign of growth after all.  And I want a president who can grow.  The real problem, as I see it, is always looking around to figure out what's popular instead of what's necessary.  Romney's position changes don't hint at growth; they speak more about the crowd he's talking to, or the State he's running in, or which part of the Party he's trying to win over on any given day.  And so it's a problem that we don't know what he really stands for other than wanting to be President.  But the bigger problem is that we have every reason to believe he will govern with the same haphazard and shortsightedness that he campaigns with.  That he will be for the military when he is with the military and the teachers when he's with the teachers and for ending pre-existing condition exclusions when he's with the voters and for keeping them when he's with the insurance companies.  That he will cut FEMA when he wants to look like a guy who knows how to trim a budget, and praise FEMA when they're heroically rescuing half as many people as they could have if they'd had a budget to cover the equipment and staffing they needed.
          My partner, Darling Virgo, works for Columbus Public Health, where she tells me there are rooms full of meticulously packed emergency kits.  Bunches of them.  And every year items in those kits are replaced because the expiration dates have passed.  And there are people whose job it is to think about those kits.  To think about whether the supplies could be packed in a way that would make the kits ten seconds more convenient for the person who will someday need to use them.  And whether those bins could be stacked in a way that would allow them to be shipped out the door more quickly.  And the Department has days where the entire staff responds to simulated emergencies, with hundreds of people role-playing possible different scenarios.  So they can practice.
          This is (as we would say back in my home state of Massachusetts): Wickid Big Government.  I mean, you don't get bigger government than stacks of annually replaced unused supplies, right?  And this is just in one city.  Imagine how many stacks of annually replaced unused supplies there are in this entire country?  It's enough to cause a Republican aneurism.   I mean, it just might be the least popular use of tax payer dollars ever. But here's the thing: that's what it takes to do it right.
          We don't always know when disasters, natural or otherwise, are going to strike.  One day New York City looks like the proudest place on Earth, and the next it looks the most humble.  If we don't have a government that shows up ready everyday, then we won't have a government that shows up ready on the day.
          For sure, President Obama has not delivered everything he promised.  But if he has proven anything, it's that he's got some serious multi-tasking game.  Two wars to end, an economy with a seized engine to replace, millions of people without access to health care... and he has kept everything moving forward.  That kind of leadership doesn't come from short-sightedness.  It comes from peripheral vision.
          So I've got my tornado supplies in the basement.  Fifteen gallons of water.  Piles of canned food.  Can opener.  Crank flashlights.  And a mattress.  But I may need someone to dig me out, and I want it to be someone who has his head in the game, not the polls. 

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