Can Mitt Romney handle a crisis?

Questions have been raised about the Republican’s political ideology as health and natural disaster crises hit the US.

From Hurricane Sandy to a deadly meningitis outbreak, two crises affecting the US are shining the spotlight on presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s attitude to the role of government.

Millions of people across the northeastern US are still being affected by Sandy, the huge storm which has killed 40 people, flooded large areas and caused billions of dollars worth of damage over several states.

You can divine something from [Romney’s] business record. For decades he was basically a corporate raider. You can take from that the way that he views society …. To him government’s role in society was to help businesses, to help private equity take over business … and otherwise use the levers of government power to benefit the very richest.”

– Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post

An efficient response to the crisis is of paramount importance, and with just six days to go before the US election, there is great scrutiny on President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the body in charge of disaster response.

But questions have been raised over how the recovery might progress under a Romney presidency.

The Republican candidate is refusing to acknowledge comments he made during the Republican primaries, which suggest he favours privatising FEMA.

“Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better,” Romney said in June last year.

Romney was asked about his comments a number of times during a storm relief event in Ohio on Tuesday. But he did not seem to want to answer.

This is not the only crisis highlighting Romney’s political ideology. He stands accused of being indirectly linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak, which has so far killed 28 people.

The disease has been traced to an ingredient in an epidural steroid made at the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Massachusetts, a company which was allowed to escape regulation while Romney was governor of the state.

I scratch my head when people call Mitt Romney an extremist because he is really not an extremist. He did what he had to do in the Republican primaries. Really he is just a politician looking to play the base.

– Trevor Burrus, a legal associate at the Cato Institute

The NECC has suspended operations and remains under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state entities. 

But it has emerged that the NECC had been cited repeatedly for failing to meet regulatory standards over several years, including under the watch of then governor Romney who allowed the company to carry on operating and regulate itself.

So is Mitt Romney the right man to handle a crisis?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Craig Unger, a writer at and author of Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power; Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post; and Trevor Burrus, a legal associate at the Cato Institute.

“Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask ourselves the opposite question: What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in.

“We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardising the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”

Mitt Romney, speaking on privatisation during the Republican primaries in June 2011