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Hurricane-Force Politics: Ron Paul Nostalgic For 1900, the Year a Big One Killed 8,000

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We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960. I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district.
–Ron Paul

The Texas congressman and serial Republican presidential candidate
uttered this comment just ahead of Hurricane Irene making landfall over the weekend on the East Coast. Call it Ron Paul’s “pre-buttal” against the storm, but there he was telling his fellow Americans anxiously waiting to face Irene that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) just wasn’t necessary. We should just be more like the year 1900, huh? Paul ought to know better.

He brags of representing Galveston, so he should know that in 1900 a Category 4 hurricane hit the city full force. An estimated 8,000 or more people died in that storm. The death toll was so great that corpses were loaded onto carts for burial at sea. Other bodies were simply stacked and burned in funeral pyres. Of those who lived, 30,000 were left homeless.Government assistance in those days amounted to handing out free whiskey to the men drafted into the effort to clear the dead bodies.

Compare that to the response to Irene. The agency which Paul deemed so unnecessary has been providing Americans in need with such supplies as fresh water, meals, and more. The federal government deployed urban search-and-rescue and medical-assistance teams, as well.

Certainly, one has to go back just six years to recall the poor response FEMA and the federal government provided to those afflicted by Hurricane Katrina. But what most Americans want and expect is a competent response, not no response at all. And, although Paul criticizes FEMA specifically, one has to wonder what he thinks about all of the other federal investments that helped Americans through the hurricane — investments that most probably took for granted and didn’t give even a second thought to.

The National Weather Service, for instance, which led the way in predicting the storm — just as it predicts our weather every other day of the year. Or how about the satellites, GPS, and other advanced technologies which helped first responders, state and local officials, and others all respond to — and mitigate — the effects of the storm? We have them only because the federal government invested billions of dollars the government spent over decades to develop them. Perhaps in his nostalgia for the last year of the 19th century, Paul would do away with all of that, too.

To be sure, 48 deaths were attributed to Hurricane Irene — and each one represents a terrible tragedy. But 48 dead compared to 8,000 or more? That’s an easy call. Unlike Ron Paul, I have a hard time waxing nostalgic for “good ol’ days” when so many people died in a hurricane that their corpses had to be stacked like so much cordwood. And unlike Paul, I understand that when our government has an obligation for the “common defense,” that includes whatever defense it can provide against disaster.

They say the 2012 election will bring a stark choice over the role of the federal government. Ron Paul’s attack on even a basic federal response to natural disaster certainly puts that choice in even clearer relief. As someone who in the last week lived through both the East Coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene, I’ll take 2011 over 1900 any day.

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About Scott Nance

  • Jordan Richardson

    Good article, Scott. I’ve wondered the same thing about these sorts of people.

    To prefer it to be “like it was” in 1900 (and so on) is just useless. It’s not and our needs are different.

    These people want a complete “you’re on your own” culture and they may just get it.

  • troll

    …don’t church groups have helicopters to pull people out of the flood waters and deliver aid?

    geeze – why not just use the local militia?

  • troll

    damn – come to think of it there was a time that we could rely on Knights to take care of this stuff

    ah – the good ol’ days

  • t

    when…

  • Charles

    Mr. Nance,

    You and I have very different impressions of what the Congressman meant. I seriously doubt that he meant we should go back to the technological level of the 1900s, and the idea that he thinks that thousands of deaths are preferable to scores of deaths is absurd.

    Here are a few links which I think may better illustrate his (and otherss) point of view to you:

    Former FEMA Director Agrees With Ron Paul

    FEMA and Katrina: What happens when the Federal Government takes over.

    Regards,

    Charles

  • sector7

    Nance, quite frankly sir, you are acting like an idiot. Have you forgotten the lessons of Katrina? FEMA ordered 200 million pounds of ice from the northeast for the victims, it took 2 weeks and ended up in Nebraska for crying out loud. The trailers they provided were unlivable. They offered no-bid contracts to companies, and instead of giving checks to the victims, they cut checks to people who weren’t even affected. You should re-think who’s side you are on.

  • The Carlos

    You know who could be there for people after a disaster.. The national guard. That’s what it’s there for. FEMA does represent bureaucratic and redundant waste.

  • http://www.thewashingtoncurrent.com Scott Nance

    I want to point out that I specifically addressed the post-Katrina criticism of FEMA, well-justified as it is. But to reiterate: Most Americans want a competent FEMA response, not no FEMA.

    As for the post-Irene response, FEMA does appear much more competent. Even Republican Gov. Chris Christie believes this to be the case.

  • Joe

    Scott,

    You addressed it huh? I guess these days that one sentence in a tiny article of only a few paragraphs is considered adequate to say that you addressed it. Personally, I would considered that a brief mention. Addressing an issue actually requires some depth, which is lacking all around in this piece.

    However, you did manage to sensationalize by listing the death toll of a more than hundred year old hurricane and giving graphic descriptions of piles of bodies. Seems you actually did address the 1900 hurricane.

    Maybe the next time you write an article you can do some in depth research so that you fully understand the stance of someone you are attacking. Of course when you’re only on the short leash and only allowed two tiny pages on the net it’s hard isn’t it.

    Well good luck with generating hits writing rubbish. Maybe you’ll have enough yard to run around in and write something with depth once you prove that you have the chops to draw in the traffic of your under-informed peers.

  • Ivan Bulatov

    Scott, I think you are missing the point of comparing to 1905.

    It was THE worst hurricane that hit United States. After all the devastation the city was rebuilt with local funds and built the Seawall that protected the city for 50+ years.

    It is to demonstrate that in the absence of federal involvement local people in record short time achieved a “miracle” as witnessed by contemporary article Austin, A. (March 1905). “Galveston, The City Reclaimed: Marvelous Recuperation Of A Town Wiped Out Four Years Ago”. Pearson’s Magazine XIII

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    You know who could be there for people after a disaster.. The national guard.

    Unfortunately they’re in Afghanistan…

  • http://www.thewashingtoncurrent.com Scott Nance

    Joe & Ivan,

    It’s clear that we can reach different conclusions, but as you attack me, I ask you to state which *facts* of mine you dispute.

    As it relates to the 1900 hurricane, even if you want to compare it to a stronger contemporary storm than Irene, the death toll of Hurricane Katrina is still 25% or less that of the Galveston storm.

  • Julian Alien

    Texas has a disaster fund.When hurricane Ike hit Galveston in 2008 Texas told FEMA they did not require their assistance.FEMA barged in on their cleanup and angered a lot of Texans.The reason they came in was so they could use the national guard to keep local contractors from entering the most exclusive neighborhoods.We pay for our own robbery.FEMA families are all millionaires.Most States now have no disaster plan and some are trying to point fingers at someone who is trying to get his State more emergency funds without a useless bureaucracy stealing from it first.FEMA’s got some splainin’ to do.

  • hwt123

    “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
    — Thomas Jefferson

  • http://www.thewashingtoncurrent.com Scott Nance

    The political philosophizing is all well and good. However, if it’s your rear end that needs saving, would you not want as robust a response as possible? I would. The fact is that states *can’t* go it alone which is why Democratic and GOP governors go looking for federal disaster assistance.

  • Clavos

    The fact is that states *can’t* go it alone…

    In the case of hurricanes, Florida usually does. FEMA’s participation is usually limited to paying for damage; Florida authorities, at both state and local levels are well prepared and have more experience than FEMA in immediate response and such tasks as evacuation and storm prep.

  • Baronius

    Dread, something like 3% of the National Guard is deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • http://www.thewashingtoncurrent.com Scott Nance

    Hi Clav,

    Florida may have the human capacity for rebuilding, you still acknowledge FEMA pays the bill — which is still an important federal role, I think.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    2 #17: I was just cracking wise, Baronius.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Florida authorities, at both state and local levels are well prepared

    Florida is first in line for any puff of wind that happens to saunter in off the Atlantic. It’s also flat and low-lying, so said breaths of wind have the capability to breeze right across the state without breaking step. Consequently, Floridians have learned from many previous encounters with devastating hurricanes and know how to deal with them.

    California, in the case of earthquakes, is similarly well-prepared.

    The Gulf states are just as hurricane-prone but, as we unfortunately saw in ’05, don’t always have such an advanced degree of disaster planning. Perhaps the presence of the Florida peninsula and the Caribbean islands as a “barrier” gives them a false sense of security.

    Similarly, the state of Washington is much more likely to be the recipient of “the Big One” than California is, but it doesn’t have a celebrity fault line like the San Andreas, so residents of the area tend not to think they’re at much of a risk. (Although the gang of volcanoes knocking around the state ought to give them a clue that the region isn’t exactly geologically stable.)

    I think disaster preparedness has a lot to do with perception, which I guess is a roundabout way of saying that states can’t possibly be prepared for everything, which is where FEMA comes in.

  • Baronius

    #19 – Yeah, but still it’s worth noting. I mean, what is Scott after here? If his primary concern is preventative, well, FEMA doesn’t have anything to do with that. If it’s assistance at the moment, there is the National Guard. If it’s money afterwards, then why bring up the death toll in Galveston? It just seems like he could clear up his argument. Instead it feels like a false choice fallacy: 48 or 8000.

  • http://www.thewashingtoncurrent.com Scott Nance

    Baronius,

    While FEMA certainly can’t stop a storm, its teams did deploy ahead of Irene, which provided some mitigation. A good, competent federal response does save lives.

    It was Ron Paul who suggested we “be like 1900.”

  • Baronius

    Scott, what mitigation did they provide that couldn’t have been handled by the National Guard? I’m really just not sure what you mean by a robust response. I don’t know what they can do before or during a disaster that the states can’t do, and I don’t know why they should be counted on to pay the bill – or even what you mean by that. Cantor got in trouble for suggesting that the money that FEMA spends on the storm should be offset. The money has to come from somewhere.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    The National Guard does respond to disasters, true…but such is NOT their primary function, which is standing by in case they are needed in time of war (see Iraq, Afghanistan). They are SOLDIERS who happen to help out sometimes in time of disaster. But they are neither trained for nor have sufficient manpower to respond to statewide disasters, much less disasters that span several states as Hurricane Irene did.

    FEMA, on the other hand, IS trained and organized to respond to disasters – such is their primary function. FEMA’s response to Katrina was terrible, but by most accounts this was largely due to a failure of leadership by the Bush appointee who had had close to ZERO experience in disaster response…not to mention the lack of leadership by Dubya himself.

    FEMA’s response to Irene, though, has been praised even by Tea-Party-favorite Chris Christie, and the only thing holding FEMA back from being more effective is – wait for it – funding allowed by the Republican-controlled House.

  • http://www.thewashingtoncurrent.com Scott Nance

    Vermont’s governor says state would have been “absolutely lost” without the FEMA response.

  • Clavos

    FEMA, on the other hand, IS trained and organized to respond to disasters…

    Welll…

    You might want to ask those folks who have spent years in FEMA trailer parks what they think of FEMA.

    I’m glad I live in a state that can (and does) handle nature disasters on its own…

    FEMA’s response to Katrina was terrible, but by most accounts this was largely due to a failure of leadership by the Bush appointee who had had close to ZERO experience in disaster response…not to mention the lack of leadership by Dubya himself.

    Well of course! They’re Republicans!

    But now that the Dems are in charge, everything’s hunky dory at FEMA…

    Thank Zeus for Dems — especially the librul ones!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    So tell me, Clavos – how terribly bad have FEMA’s responses been since the Dems have been in charge, and someone was placed in charge of FEMA who DOES have experience in disaster mitigation?

    Oh, but I forgot! Experience doesn’t matter! They’re ALL bad, and it doesn’t mean anything if the guy with almost NO experience (appointed by Bush) does poorly and the guy with lots of experience (appointed by Obama) does well. Is that another one of your correlation/causation dodges just waiting to rear its head?

    And as far as those trailers go…that’s what happens when you buy from the lowest bidder. And while we’re at it, did ANYONE stop to think where the refugees would have been housed if there had been no trailers available? Would tents have been preferable, with winter coming up in a few months?

    Please use your cynicism against BOTH sides, and not just against those you don’t like, Clavos.

  • Cannonshop

    #27 No worse than under Bush…and likely no better, either-but the media coverage is slightly less negative, and they were lucky enough that Irene turned into a typical gale (F1) before petering out, and before doing real damage.

    But, FEMA is a redundant agency, and in the case of states like Texas (which, apparently

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Waitaminnit! You’re saying FEMA’s response to Irene was “likely no better” than for Katrina????

    Are you stoned?

    Or are you just stuck on the all-MSM-other-than-Fox-“News”-is-controlled-by-the-liberals meme?

  • Clavos

    You’re saying FEMA’s response to Irene was “likely no better” than for Katrina????

    It’s hard to tell, since Irene didn’t hit any areas as vulnerable as NO, and after the Outer Banks, was reduced to strong tropical storm status, resulting in far fewer situations requiring complex responses.

  • Cannonshop

    #29 first off, Irene was, as Clavos points out, no Katrina. The danger of hitting a below-Sea-Level major metropolis with F5 hurricane winds, storm surges, etc. never materialized. The national weather service did more to save lives than FEMA did, especially given the rather lackluster performance of the storm itself.

    Second: the mention (I forget which post, sorry) of Vermont’s governor being ‘lost’ without FEMA? That more indicates the need in Vermont for a competent governor, than the efficacy of FEMA’s demonstrated performance.

    If you’re a Governor, and you can’t handle a situation involving some minor coastal flooding and a typical mid-summer windstorm without a Federal Pinhead to hold your hand, maybe you shouldn’t be in the office.

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