On a day when thousands of Floridians are standing in line for clean water and food, their homes devastated by an unprecedented fourth hurricane of the year, I look at the Republican Party of Florida’s website (link) where state GOP chairman Carole Jean Jordan says that “open-armed conservatism in government will lead to stronger families, less government intervention, more freedoms and more personal responsibility”. In a year where feckless war-zone profiteers sell bottles of water for $10 while undermanned state troopers try to maintain a sense of order, the RPOF’s mission statement states an unabashed fervor for “the free enterprise and the encouragement of individual initiative and incentive”. While our volunteer Florida National Guard is called is out to help in the rehabilitation of their devastated neighbors and families, the state’s GOP continues to push an agenda of square-jawed individualism.
When the Federal Emergency Management Agency was formed by President Carter’s executive order in 1979, it pooled the resources of multiple disaster recovery and assistance programs, recognizing that the umbrella coverage provided by a united agency was more effective than splitting responsibility and fiscal management throughout half a dozen smaller groups. And for the past quarter-century FEMA has managed its charge with more or less competent control, providing assistance to Americans through dozens of natural (and in the wake of 9/11, man-made) disasters. But since the WTC attack, President Bush used the goodwill of Congress to reassemble FEMA as part of his favorite cabinet-level agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Along with the Coast Guard, INS, Secret Service, TSA and more than a dozen more subagencies, FEMA’s control and budget have been effectively hijacked by the current administration’s love of direct control.
Along with President Bush’s announcement that the country needs only one central spokesman to oversee the myriad military and civilian intelligence agencies, the consolidation of FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security demonstrates Bush’s lack of understanding of his own party’s principles. Having already forsaken the normally “conservative” perspective of fiscal prudence (when in fact GOP pols are just as guilty of pork-barrel projects as their Democratic brethren), the president is now leaving behind the tenets of individualism and freedom from government interference; not out of a genuine change of heart, but from this administration’s almost pathological need for hands-on control. By reigning in the responsibilities of government to the cabinet level, Bush and his handlers can choose their secretaries and filter down information from the West Wing as needed, rather than bother with meddlesome press briefings or messy congressional oversight. This secrecy, coupled with Bush’s taste for holding state-level agencies for financial ransom when they don’t meet his ‘security’ wishes, shows an alarming militization of the government.
Despite his populist rhetoric, President Bush has long forgotten any values from the old-time Republican Party. Now content to ape Reagan in public while spending tax revenue like a drunken sailor, he no doubt sees his continuing growth of the federal government in a positive light—securing America’s freedom and safety from the terrorist hordes. But when Carter first incorporated FEMA in the 70’s, it was the true safety and health of American citizens in mind, not the false front presented to us by Cheney and Company. Perhaps it’s time for true economic conservatives to use some of Chairman Jordan’s declared ‘personal responsibility’ to remove the rampaging defecit monster from Washington.