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When “big government” is needed

The effects of Sandy haven’t been so bad here in my part of Virginia. Looks like New York City and New Jersey took the brunt of it. TPM has some dramatic photos.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie– who delivered the keynote address at last summer’s Republican convention– was effusive this morning in his praise for the response of President Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to the disaster.

Meanwhile Mitt Romney is being uncomfortably reminded of what he said in a Republican primary debate last year, when he suggested that federal emergency services be privatized.

During that 2011 debate, Romney said states “absolutely” should assume more of that role.

“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,” Romney said. “And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

The New York Times editorialized:

Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

Bashing “big government,” as Republicans are wont to do, is fine until you actually need it. When you do need it, it seems better to have people in charge who actually believe the government can do big and important things well.

Meanwhile Romney tries to make a photo op out of collecting donated goods that the Red Cross says it doesn’t want, and which is far from the most efficient and effective way to aid victims of the storm.