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Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Tale of Two Crises

Mark Steyn
Whether or not to get serious is the choice facing the electorate.

In political terms, Hurricane Sandy and the Benghazi-consulate debacle exemplify at home and abroad the fundamental unseriousness of the United States in the Obama era. In the days after Sandy hit, Barack Obama was generally agreed to have performed well. He had himself photographed in the White House Situation Room nodding thoughtfully to bureaucrats (“John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; David Agnew, Director for Intergovernmental Affairs”) and tweeted it to his 3.2 million followers. He appeared in New Jersey wearing a bomber jacket rather than a suit to demonstrate that when the going gets tough the tough get out a monogrammed Air Force One bomber jacket. He announced that he’d instructed his officials to answer all calls within 15 minutes because in America “we leave nobody behind.” By doing all this, the president “shows” he “cares” — which is true in the sense that in Benghazi he was willing to leave the entire consulate staff behind, and nobody had their calls answered within seven hours, because presumably he didn’t care. So John Brennan, the Counterterrorism guy, and Tony Blinken, the National Security honcho, briefed the president on the stiff breeze, but on September 11, 2012, when a little counterterrorism was called for, nobody bothered calling the Counterterrorism Security Group, the senior U.S. counterterrorism bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, FEMA rumbles on, the “emergency-management agency” that manages emergencies, very expensively, rather than preventing them. Late on the night Sandy made landfall, I heard on the local news that my state’s governor had asked the president to declare a federal emergency in every New Hampshire county so that federal funds could be “unlocked.” A quarter-million people in the Granite State were out of power. It was reported that, beyond our borders, 8 million people in a dozen states were out of power.

But that’s not an “emergency.” No hurricane hit my county. Indeed, no hurricane hit New Hampshire. No hurricane hit “17 states,” the number of states supposedly “affected” by Sandy at its peak. A hurricane hit a few coastal counties of New Jersey, New York and a couple of other states, and that’s it. Everyone else had slightly windier-than-usual wind — and yet they were out of power for days. In a county entirely untouched by Sandy, my office manager had no electricity for a week. Not because of an “emergency” but because of a decrepit and vulnerable above-the-ground electrical-distribution system that ought to be a national embarrassment to any developed society. A few weeks ago, I chanced to be in Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a French colony of 6,000 people on a couple of treeless rocks in the North Atlantic. Every electric line is underground. Indeed, the droll demoiselle who leads tours of the islands makes a point of amusingly drawing American visitors’ attention to this local feature.

If you’re saying, “Whoa, that sounds expensive,” well, our government is more expensive than any government in history — and we have nothing to show for it. Imagine if Obama’s 2009 stimulus had been spent burying every electric pole on the Eastern Seaboard. Instead, just that one Obama bill spent a little shy of a trillion dollars, and no one can point to a single thing it built. “A big storm requires Big Government,” pronounced the New York Times. But Washington is so big-hearted with Big Government it spends $188 million an hour that it doesn’t have — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Ramadan. And yet, mysteriously, multi-trillion-dollar Big Government Obama-style can’t doanything except sluice food stamps to the dependent class, lavish benefits and early retirement packages to the bureaucrats that service them, and so-called government “investment” to approved Obama cronies.

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