So it wasn’t as bad as they said it might be. The big bad hurricane that some had described as “the size of Europe,” ended up being a relatively weak storm as these things go, albeit it did enough damage with over 30 lives lost and who knows how many others injured psychically, if not physically. Property damage, lost business income, and the overall impact on the economy will only be fully evident months from now.
But Irene was a national event, to be sure. And coming as it did close to the anniversary of Katrina and the devastation it caused to New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, and only a few weeks from the ten-year anniversary of a different kind of catastrophe, one to be commemorated as an event of its own, it served to remind us of a few lessons and perhaps give us a few thoughts to ponder.
Among the lessons might be the one concerning “mother nature.” And the lesson there is that she is not to be fooled with. Disasters in her eyes are merely a matter of perspective. Hurricanes and other meteorological phenomena, along with earthquakes, meteor strikes and volcanic eruptions, are just part of the way things are from a purely neutral perspective.
Only when we humans are affected do those occurrences gain a quality that makes them something to be feared or prepared for or doomed to experience, depending on your general philosophical attitude. Without us, the physical manifestations of “God’s plan” are nothing more than the way things happen to be at any given point in time. Indeed, even time has little if any significance, absent the need we (humans) have to relate to it and to note its passing.
But from our perspective, hurricanes, and all the other “acts of God” that bedevil our existence, are a big deal, especially when they wreak havoc on us and the things (mostly material) that matter to us.
That lesson isn’t especially significant, but there might be a message contained in it, if you care to think on it.
A more basic lesson gained from the sincere efforts of government officials to keep those in Irene’s path safe is that we want to protect ourselves from these natural events and the damage they can cause us, even when it means inconveniencing ourselves and spending our tax dollars to do it.
Governors from all the adversely affected states, even those with Tea Party Republicans in their statehouses, sought and accepted federal assistance to help their residents survive and recover from Irene. In this kind of circumstance, relief is all that matters. The cost of that relief, or where it is coming from, is not the slightest concern.
Irene was a wake-up call to America. The round-the-clock media coverage was more than just an exciting way to pass the weekend. Too many people were facing devastation as the storm moved up the coast. And whether we were in its path or had relatives who were or just empathized with those who might suffer harm in its wake, we felt concern, real anxious concern.
In fact, most Americans want to help those caught in harm’s way, which is a very positive lesson learned from Irene. We want to do what is the modern equivalent of building a new barn for our neighbors whose barn was destroyed by the wildfire that spread through the frontier prairie in an earlier time.
And for most of us, without the ability to help in the building of those new barns ourselves, we expect (or at least accept) that our governments will do it for us. And, though we may not think about it, we would understand that our tax dollars would be used to build those new barns.
Or at least most of us would have such an understanding. Yet, in the immediate aftermath of Irene’s march up the eastern seaboard, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor insisted that any emergency funds used to provide relief and assistance to communities adversely affected by the storm would have to be matched by spending cuts elsewhere. In other words, Mr. Cantor was boldly declaring, we won’t build the new barns unless we give up some other project we had planned to undertake.
There’s no sense of communal sacrifice in the Cantor philosophy, which also happens to be the controlling philosophy of his political party at this point in the nation’s history. He would gladly recognize purely private initiatives to build the new barns, especially if they had a profit-making element attached to them for those private efforts.
But no new government spending, and implicitly, no new taxes, to get those barns built. That’s the current message from the new Republican/Tea Party. If it can’t be done with existing resources, it must not be done at all, because … well, just because. Government spending, you see, kills jobs. Taxing Americans for things that need to be done kills jobs. Government action of any kind, be it regulation or authorization or investigation, kills jobs. Anything that interferes with or places a burden of any kind on the private enterprise of the nation kills jobs. Even government initiatives that would appear to promote job creation kill jobs.
At least that is the message that Eric Kantor imparts on behalf of his party with the vehemence of a true believer warning of the wages of sin at a Sunday prayer meeting.
One wonders just what would constitute the kind of emergency that would justify asking for collective sacrifice to help our neighbors for this man and his party.
Americans have good instincts when it comes to coming to the aid of their neighbors. They have good instincts about the relative importance of private enterprise and collective sacrifice. They want their leaders to offer help to those in need, and, when asked, they are willing to pay for it.
That is a lesson from Irene that is worth serious contemplation. Mr. Kantor and his colleagues in the new political party they are fashioning would do well to understand it.