Quote of the week
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”
— Joni Mitchell
There’s nothing like a Frankenstorm to make one ponder the value of government. The devastation wrought by superstorm Sandy on the American east coast even had Republican governor Chris Christie praising President Obama, saying, “The president has been all over this, and he deserves great credit.”
Of course, politics is politics. But more to the point, perhaps, is that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is getting praise for its response to the crisis. The press secretary to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, (admittedly a Democrat), told Bloomberg Businessweek that: “FEMA has been extremely helpful and has been embedded with us at the emergency operations center since before Sandy hit the state.”
FEMA, you will remember, got lousy reviews after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
And so did the politician who was responsible for it. George W. Bush lost a lot of political capital over FEMA’s incompetence.
Closer to home, the Ontario government of Mike Harris could not escape criticism over the Walkerton e. coli crisis in 2000, in which at least seven people died. Harris called an inquiry that laid the blame for the crisis on his own government’s cutbacks.
And that is the rub that politicians everywhere might want to think about. Sure, government is too expensive. OK, government needs to get out of a lot of things. And absolutely, it needs to work with other sectors to get things done.
But the bottom line is clear: citizens want some government, and I would argue that their expectations of it go beyond crisis management. At some point, no matter who actually does the job, they will hold government accountable if it isn’t done right.
And if that happens, it’s not just the institution that will get the blame, it’s the politicians as well.