Looking back through the transcript of Monday night’s GOP debate, attention has begun to focus on the following exchange between CNN’s John King and Mitt Romney. I’ll post it here in its entirety, just so there’s no question about context:
KING: Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?
ROMNEY: Absolutely. 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. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…
KING: Including disaster relief, though?
ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.
Where to begin?
Let’s start with the Romney’s contention that disaster relief is an obligation that the federal government ought to shuck and devolve to the states or even private enterprise. Devolving that duty to the states means it would not get done. The state of Missouri, like most states, is struggling to balance its budget and could not possibly have funded the billion-dollar relief effort launched in the wake of the disaster in Joplin. The same is true of Alabama and the tornadoes that devastated our neighbors to the west in April. A state suffering destruction on such a scale cannot be told to suck it up and pull itself up by its own bootstraps.
After all, it is moments such as these that put the “United” in the United States. We are not self-contained human units each out to maximize individual wealth and consumption; we are Americans, and we help each other out. The notion that disaster relief is among “those things we’ve got to stop doing” is nonsense, and to base that suggestion on grounds of morality, as Romney does, boggles the mind.
After all, we are the richest nation the world has ever known. The concept that “we cannot afford to do those things” — “those things” being assisting our fellow Americans in a time when they have lost everything as a result of natural disaster — is unacceptable.
I’m not sure what Romney was thinking in those remarks. This was not some misstatement or misunderstanding on his part. I suspect, however, that this is what happens when a party becomes so trapped in its rhetoric that it no longer recognizes rational bounds or even basic compassion.
– Jay Bookman