The problem with small government is that there are big problems. We saw that this week in a major way. Sandy barreled down on the northeast and the damage is astounding. There is no way that the strapped states could meet the needs of their devastated populations. Many of them have provisions in their constitutions that they must have balanced budgets so the only way they could address the problems of a natural disaster like Sandy would be to decimate all of their programs. It simply would not work without obscene human costs.
Beyond that, when we have people in leadership whose basic assumption is that government is a bad thing that needs to be shrunk until it is small enough to be drowned in the bathtub, it doesn't matter whether they are skilled and competent or not. They will not respond in an adequate way. We saw that after Katrina when FEMA blew it big time. There were reasons even beyond the incompetence of the leadership (and they were incompetent). They simply didn't see it as their job. The response was inadequate and many areas of the gulf still have not recovered. On the other end of the spectrum, we see the Obama administration who put FEMA resources in place as soon as it became clear that Sandy would be horrific. They began to make contacts with the governors and building coalitions to get things done before the storm hit. Even Gov. Christie of New Jersey praised the Obama administration for their efficiency at addressing the problems. He also said that he is expecting significant funds from the federal government to help meet the needs of his state.
Romney implied during the primary debates that FEMA should be privatized or at least that the responsibilities it owns be passed down to the state level. Republicans significantly cut funding to FEMA over the past few years and Ryan's budget calls for further cuts. All of that is while holding the recent memory of Katrina. They simply do not believe it is their job to help out in times like this. The responsibility is given to the states, who simply cannot address the biggest issues. The expectation is that charities and the private sector would help. We saw how that worked with Katrina. Faithful volunteers spent hundreds of thousands of hours helping out and slowly drifted away as the months passed. Some are still working there but they cannot begin to address the problems that persist 7 years later. The private sector? The casinos went back up on the gulf coast in a matter of months. Housing for poor folk? Still waiting to be constructed.
The next time you hear a Tea Party person claim we need smaller government, remember the images of New Jersey and New York and ask them, "If we didn't have a big government, who would help in times like this?" They very well may answer that folk are on their own... that is not a country where I want to live.