Will the era of a thousand points of light end with Mitt Romney’s photo op of a thousand cans of soup?
Ever since President George H.W. Bush proclaimed a need for “a thousand points of light,” Americans have been enthralled by the idea that private charity is all that is needed to help those in crisis. In this view, there is no point in using government money to pay for services as varied as the Federal Emergency Management Agency to food stamps, not at all, not when there are millions of Americans standing at the ready to give time, money and stuff.
So that’s how you get events like Mitt Romney’s Ohio rally on Monday, when he packed a bunch of food up for the Hurricane Sandy stricken areas of the United States, all the while reminiscing about the time he and a bunch of friends cleaned up a football field of “rubbish” after a big game. As for his previously announced plans to shut down FEMA and turn its functions over to the states should he be elected president, Romney didn’t say a word.
The problems with private charity for all with government aid for none are so many, that it is hard to know where to start. On a relatively minor level, there is the known fact that many millionaires and billionaires tend to give their money to causes close to their hearts, not those most in need. (See John Paulson and Central Park).But that’s the least of it when it comes to catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy, which left several dozen people dead, New York City almost shut down, millions of people without electricity, and numerous towns and cities with serious structural damage.
A few willing volunteers aren’t going to cut it in these circumstances, and shame on Mitt Romeny for even pretending otherwise. It doesn’t, to quote Noam Scheiber at The New Republic, “scale.” There is simply no way to privately coordinate and make sure all that help — if even exists, which I would highly doubt — can get to the right people and organizations in the right way. That’s why we have government aid.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at that soup. Mitt Romeny proclaimed it destined for New Jersey. ”There’s a site we’ve identified where we can take these goods and distribute them to people who need them,” Romney announced.
Never mind the trashed homes, and the dozens of dead people. Mitt Romney is going to make sure those people in New Jersey get themselves some soup. He was so excited by this charitable opportunity, he didn’t even realize that the recipients would likely be sipping that soup cold. More than one million households in New Jersey currently lack electricity, making heating soup up difficult indeed.