Monday, June 13, 2011

Where libertarian ideology fails

It has long been a central tenet of libertarian (hard-right conservative) ideology that government should not be expected to pick up the bill for providing that which people should be providing for themselves. While we may battle over what those things might be, that ideology has never, to the best of my knowledge, been extended to deny help to those who clearly cannot provide for themselves due to a dramatic and overwhelming catastrophe such as what has been experienced in Joplin and the many other American towns devastated by recent weather emergencies. And yet, this is the ideology that Congressional Leader Cantor expects his party to adopt in dealing with the tragedy that has been visited upon our fellow countrymen.

Before Alabama was devastated by tornadoes on May 27, 2011, Joplin, Missouri was ravaged by a tornado on May 23 that took the lives of 134 people and displaced thousands as a result of their homes and businesses being destroyed. Yet House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a libertarian leaning Republican, has made it clear that he has no intention of coming to the aid of Joplin, Missouri unless and until budget offsets can be found to pay for any federal aid to help these Missourians in need.

Cantor has brought to the front the false and perverted choices embraced by those who would subscribe to his libertarian approach, including the followers of the Tea Party ideology.

Setting aside what most of us may feel about Congressman Cantor’s rather heartless comment about this situation, it turns out that Joplin is represented in Congress by a Tea Party backed Republican named Billy Long – one of the angry freshmen elected to Congress on a platform of being ‘fed up’ with career politicians and who ran on the motto that he was “Tea Party before Tea Party was cool’ which means he ascribes to libertarianism. So, what is a Tea Party Congressman – dedicated to smaller government and individual responsibility – to do when the very people who are hurt and in serious need of billions of dollars of assistance are the same people who sent him to Congress in support of his ultra-conservative beliefs? 

His answer has been to do nothing as he weighs his ideological commitment against the dramatic needs of his constituents and the political damage that might follow whatever decision he makes. Upon learning of Cantor’s position on the subject, Long clammed-up, refusing to say where he stands.

Big mistake.

Even Tea Partiers want the federal government to open up the wallet and begin spending when their own lives are the ones engulfed in pain and disarray through no fault of their own.

Long’s fellow GOP Member of Congress from the Missouri Delegation, Jo Ann Emerson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, has had no problem whatsoever in working out where she stands. Her own district buried under 12 feet of water as a result of the storm, Emerson has not held back in her criticism of Cantor for holding these unfortunate people hostage to his ideology. She then added something that goes right to the heart of the matter when addressing the ideological conflict raised by asking the federal government to provide the needed assistance:

People all of a sudden have a change of heart on spending when it becomes personal. My own constituents would be horrified if I didn’t do everything I could.”

Another are where people quickly drop ideology is in discussing the realities of healthcare when serious illness strikes one of their own loved ones. People no longer care about things like conservative versus liberal ideologies that has nothing to do with the one thing people do care about – making their loved one healthy again. Such is the case in Joplin, Missouri and the many lives from many towns that have been destroyed by extraordinary weather.

When your home or business – and possibly even the life of a loved one – has been snatched from you in an instant, political ideology is the last thing on your mind. When you need help as a result of an overwhelming circumstance where only the very wealthy among us could handle on their own, you will look to your fellow countrymen to stand by your side and do what it takes to provide that which is necessary to help you begin pulling your life back together.

Many of the folks in Joplin, Missouri – a district that sent a self-professed Tea Party devotee to represent them in Congress – have no doubt spent countless hours decrying the federal government’s involvement in anything not specifically allocated to it by the United States Constitution. These same people have spoken out loudly about how government’s role is not to spend for everyone who has a problem and reinforced the notion that Americans should be expected to take care of themselves and not look to government to solve their problems.

And then a devastating tornado took out half their town and killed 142 of their citizens.

These very same people are now finding that they currently see the issue very differently despite the fact that the Constitution does not specifically grant the federal government the power to bail out a city devastated by Mother Nature. 

And who could possibly blame them?

As Americans, we understand that politics and ideology go out the window when such a crisis happens. Joplin citizens have now learned that it’s about humanity. When a fellow American is in this kind of trouble, we set aside our allegedly deeply held political beliefs and we do what we must to help people in such deep distress.

Eric Cantor does not get it. And in using this horrible circumstance to make his ideological point, Cantor reveals that there is something very wrong with his commitment to a twisted libertarian ideology rather than a commitment to people.

I suppose we should not be surprised. Remember that it was Eric Cantor who, when asked by a Virginia constituent what an uninsured relative (due to the relative’s having lost her job) who was dying of stomach cancer should do to get the operation she so badly needed to save her life, Cantor heartlessly advised that the dying relative should ‘find a charity’.

And what about Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri – a self-professed deeply conservative Republican with the voting record to back it up? Blunt has been quick to say that he wants the federal government to completely reimburse the devastated towns of Missouri and has asked the federal government to assume a larger share of the cleanup costs than what the government would normally take on in these circumstances.

It’s easy to be an ideologue when you can’t see the faces or don’t know the names of the people you are hurting. Funny how Blunt's ideology took a 180 degree turn when it was about his own state.

Certainly, Blunt is reacting to the serious needs of his constituents and is to be praised for doing so. He understands the small value ideology holds when it is his neighbors who are in trouble. So far, Blunt has not even placed a condition on his request that offsets be found to pay for his wishes – and I don’t expect he will be doing so. 

But Blunt also voted for the Ryan Budget that would devastate Medicare and Medicaid, forcing future senior citizens into a highly precarious position when it comes to their healthcare when they reach 65.

There is a terrible lesson in Joplin, Missouri for GOP lawmakers:
It’s all ‘personal’ to those who are affected.

It’s time for Republicans to turn away from Eric Cantor and libertarian Tea Party style ideology and remember that, at the end of the day, it’s all about people. And while we can differ on the solutions that will have the best result, there are certain needs that supersede ideology and politics – and Joplin, Missouri is clearly an example of such a need.

Libertarian ideology fails when it comes to community and people in need.

This is an edited version of:  Deadly Tornados Reveal The Failure Of Today’s Perverse GOP Ideology by Rick Ungar