Should Government Have Saved Idiots From Hurricane Irene?

Even anti-government folks need the government's help during a natural disaster.

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New York 's Finest rescued two men who went kayaking off the choppy, barely-pre hurricane waters off of Staten Island this past weekend. According to a report by the local Fox affiliate, about 25 emergency vehicles were in the area, along with a rescue boat—resources that might have been needed for storm emergencies that were not entirely self-created.

The question here is not why the men would come up with, never mind execute, such a supremely bone-headed idea. That is obvious. It’s not that they are stupid; were that the case, we could feel some sympathy and bewilderment at two people who would have the knowledge and wherewithal to know how to kayak, but the utter lack of common sense that  led them to take such insubstantial boats out to sea when the city was preparing for a potentially devastating storm.

No, the question is, why did the NYPD waste time and energy rescuing them? Or to put it more philosophically and less unkindly, what should be the obligation of government toward the people who either hate it or refuse to follow its dicta?

There are legislative parallels. People who don’t believe in mandatory health insurance, or universal healthcare with government helping to enable it, have a libertarian point. But are they ready to be turned away from the emergency room if they are injured, or left bleeding on the street if they are hit by cars? And how about those who opposed raising the debt ceiling under any circumstances (often believing, wrongly, that the vote created new debt, instead of forcing the United States to follow through on its already-obligated debt)?  Should those people receive government payment or services? [See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.]

People are curious about weather and hate being locked up in their homes or forced to safer venues. This is understandable, but sensible people acknowledge the destructive impulse and reject it. It’s part of being an adult, right up there with not telling a bride in a horrible poofy dress and about to get married that she looks like a cream puff. But to deliberately reject government order to leave disaster zones—this is not Big Government controlling one’s life, this is a team of very well-meaning mayors, governors, and federal officials of all political stripes trying to keep people from dying out of hubris.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a darling of the progressives, actually went door-to-door to convince people to leave danger zones. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a conservative favorite, said what every east coast official needed to say: "Get the hell off the beach!" Independent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg smartly shut down the public transit system, told people they had to evacuate low-lying areas, and reminded people in clear terms that "this is not a joke."

Many people responded responsibly. But what did others do? How about the folks who frolicked in the surf off of Rhode Island as Hurricane Irene was approaching? A great YouTube video, except that it might have been a little tasteless to show it at their funerals, if they hadn’t gotten lucky. Then there were the parents who brought their three young daughters to the coast to see the storm, telling a newspaper that they wanted the girls to see what a hurricane was like. Great idea; why not take them to Libya, so they can see what it’s like for a country to attempt a transition from brutal dictatorship to a representative government? And then there are the people who thought that their huge, overpriced SUVs were made for hurricane-level winds. Where were they going, anyway? It’s not like anything was open. It’s all about stubbornness, or maybe the old man-vs-nature theme English majors learn is one of three major conflicts in literature. In the end, we all die, which is proof that nature eventually always wins. Why were those people tempting nature to change the schedule? [See photos of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.]

There are some important lessons from the recent storm. The first is for the virulently antigovernment folks, and it is this: government stepped up and performed brilliantly, limiting the damage from the storm. The National Weather Service started the process by alerting us to the storm and tracking its movements. Mayors and governors and federal officials across the political spectrum took important precautions, undoubtedly saving lives. First responders on a government payroll stepped up to rescue people and clear the streets and beaches. President Obama declared federal emergencies that will make states and the District of Columbia eligible for disaster aid. And now, people will undoubtedly expect their state and federal governments to help clear the debris and fix damaged infrastructure. Or is the We-Hate-Government crowd expecting the private sector to volunteer to pay for it?

Then we have our two kayakers, who selfishly used government resources and personnel, as rescuers were forced to risk their own lives to save the bobbing behinds of the boaters who had lost their kayak. They were issued criminal summonses for failing to obey the safety directives against taking a light boat out on the water as a hurricane approached. A better punishment might be to force them to pay for the salaries and equipment needed to save them.

  • Read about how Bachmann's path mirrors Irene's.
  • See photos of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.
  • Read about the The Earthquake’s Hidden Financial Lessons