Hurricane Romney, “Go Home and Call 211” and the Politics of Everything

With Clint Eastwood’s to-hell-with-this-wooden-chair speech in the past, the brutally drawn-out Republican National Convention has come to an end, leaving the Romney campaign to finally focus on the last three months of the election season. And these upcoming few weeks are the most important: as the candidates mark out their final talking points, the notorious yet senselessly hopeless skeptics known as the ‘independent voters’ go through the ultimate process of elimination. Hooray for the two-party system!

Moving on from Tampa, Mitt has found himself in hurricane territory: after accepting an invite from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, the Republican hopeful traveled down to the devastated lands in Isaac’s path. These were the towns that unfortunately exist outside of the vast levee system that “protects” Louisiana’s shores after Katrina. And most of them were found underwater by authorities after the storm hit.
Once there, Romney spent close to an hour with Jindal shaking hands with first responders and National Guardsmen. The Governor pointed out to reporters that he extended the invite to Mr. Obama as well even though the President is coming on his own accord this Monday. And Jindal has a history of not accepting invites from the President, too: he was one of the few Republican governors that refused to accept stimulus funds a few years back. At the time, Louisiana had one of the worst unemployment numbers in the country
Mitt also met Jodie Chiarello, a 42-year-old woman who lost her house thanks to Isaac. Since the federal funds did not come to her area a few years back, her house was submerged under water and, now, she has nowhere to go. When Jodie asked Mitt what he could do about the situation, he had a brilliant plan to salvage what was left.
“He just told me to, uhm, there’s assistance out there,” she told reporters. “He said, ‘go home and call 211.'”
For those who do not know, 211 is a public service number one calls for basic human needs resources and other physical/mental resources in times of crisis. According to its website, you can also call it for unemployment benefits, daycare and donation centers. It’s like the 311 number we have here in New York – it’s a direct connection to your government, except they’ll probably put you on hold for fifteen minutes or so. Relax, the government will help you when it gets around to it.
Besides the fact that Jodie has no home to call 211 from, Romney’s suggestion relies upon an individual responsibility that lies as the cornerstone of his partner-in-crime’s budget. In Path to Prosperity, Paul Ryan offers an 80% cut in discretionary spending – the largest gutting of governmental public services in our lifetime – and FEMA finds itself stuck on the chopping block. Although exact numbers aren’t given to how much disaster funds would be cut, it’s safe to say that calling 211 might be the only option left in a nation starved for cash flow.
This was the point made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday when he chastised Mitt and Paul for even thinking that they could show sympathy for the hurricane victims. A bit harsh? Yes. In a statement, he wrote,

“It is the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own.”

Contrary to popular belief, everything is political. As cynical and heart-wrenching as it sounds,  a natural disaster like Hurricane Isaac is dealt with by human hands and, as Hunter S. Thompson once pointed out, “politics is the art of controlling your environment.” Therefore, Reid’s interjection of Ryan’s budget into the conversation is a common move by politicians (especially during election season) to further politicize an already political event. That was a tongue twister and a half.

However, the downside of an all-political reality is the ignorance that rides the coat tail of partisanship. If we’re talking disasters, we saw it happen back when Katrina hit New Orleans. While the country argued with itself over responsibility (or lack thereof) from FEMA, the Cajun city got privatized and assembled back together like a leaded toy from China.
And we are seeing the same thing happen here in this election now with Isaac. Sure, criticize Romney for telling Jodie to ‘go home and call 211’ but Reid is just as guilty of taking our eyes off the real victims here as well. The argument shifts away from the actual physical and emotional toll Isaac left behind on these people and we find itself mired in talks of the budget and Ayn-Rand-inspired personal responsibility.
In the end, humans are responsible for politics but they never want to be responsible for its side-effects. All this information can be repeated for you by calling 2-1-1.