Friday, February 8, 2013

S'No Ban Worth Driving Far

Like the snowfall that started it, the complaining is flying furiously in Massachusetts.

Yesterday, the liberal state's equally-liberal governor, Deval Patrick, issued a state of emergency that, among other things, banned non-emergency travel after 4:00 this Friday afternoon.  The season's first mega-blizzard was bearing down on the Bay State, and officials wanted to make sure people took it seriously and got themselves home and off the streets before conditions became dangerous.

Depending on your level of animosity towards authority in general and governments in particular, you'll interpret the governor's travel ban as either sensible preparedness or Big Brother heavy-handedness.  A quick glance at Boston-area traffic cameras this afternoon indicates that the vast majority of drivers took heed of the governor's warning and have gotten off of at least the state's major freeways.  Whether they've done so obediently or begrudgingly is another question.

Ostensibly, the governor wants the freeways empty so that first responders and emergency personnel can have a safer commute to hospitals, power stations, and traffic department sand depots.  Having non-emergency vehicles stuck in snow and blocking traffic lanes makes everything worse.  He also wants to ensure that the citizenry of his state understand the gravity of the situation and stay off the roads for their own safety.

And yes, it's entirely likely that the governor has an appetite for power, as his detractors claim, since as any politician, he views his office as a good way of imposing his policy standards on an entire state.  That's the nature of politics, whether you're a liberal or a conservative.  Nobody runs for governor against their will, or because they don't want to be in a position of authority.  Whether they're Republican or Democrat, then, accusing a governor of abusing power in making travel bans needs to be balanced against that governor's overall approach to governance.  If they're constantly forcing Nanny-State rules on the populace, then you likely have a genuine problem, and this being Massachusetts - aka "Taxachusetts" - it's not a complaint with zero merit.  But in this case, the governor is likely reacting to a disturbing trend we've all witnessed on the news as emergency weather situations develop.

You know them, and maybe you're one of them:  the holdouts and pig-headed pseudo-survivalists who ignore warnings to evacuate ahead of a hurricane or forest fire.  Invariably, during the height of the storm of which they were warned, these people then start trying to call 911 for help.  It's such a stupid pattern, it's ludicrous.

Should taxpayers assume that their lives are worth more than those of the first responders they expect should rescue them?  By paying your taxes, does that entitle you to do whatever you want when opportunities to flee imminent danger are provided to you?  Isn't it a bit un-American to presume that American individuality equates to entitlement for last-minute rescues?

For one thing, no first responder is paid enough for their own life.  Sure, they might carry life insurance from which their next-of-kin can benefit, but when it comes to human life, each is equal.  Right?

Right?

Even if it's hard for you to answer in the affirmative, consider this:  first responders in the United States are usually highly-trained and extensively-equipped people who represent a significant investment of taxpayer dollars for that training and equipment.  So even if you're ambivalent about the human life possessed by a first responder, if spending taxpayer dollars so wisely is that important to you, wasting it all to try and save your own belligerent hide should make you think twice, shouldn't it?

After all, would other taxpayers consider your survival to be of more importance than a first responder's?  What is it about your life that makes you that much more special than the people you expect to be able to call after you've ignored warnings to avoid danger?  Sure, first responders are paid to help their fellow citizens, but traditionally, that service has been in response (response/responder; see the clue?) to an accidental mishap, an unforeseen danger, or a tragedy for which nobody could have planned.  Responding to these types of incidents compromises the health and well-being of first-responders sufficiently enough, don't you think?  How reasonable is it to intentionally subject yourself to likely harm and then scream for somebody else to save you from it and risk their own selves in the process?

He may be a liberal, and conservatives may not like his Nanny-State policies, but Patrick's got a point, doesn't he?  He's not only responsible for the people who would want to dillydally their day away and then get stuck in snowdrifts on the interstate.  He's responsible for the people his agencies will have to send out to rescue those dimwitted, selfish drivers.  It would be one thing if a blizzard slammed into the state unexpectedly, and thousands of commuters were caught by surprise.  But thanks to technology, we usually have advanced warning of severe weather events like blizzards and hurricanes, and anybody with common sense should put that advanced warning to good use.

Unfortunately, just as common sense may be a commodity some conservatives complain liberals lack, don't they demonstrate their own lack of it by creating scenarios that have led to governments not trusting that their citizenry will use it?  Patrick's use of an executive order to ban highway travel wasn't just pulled out of thin air, was it?

There are indeed times when a government has to protect its people from themselves.  If you like, go ahead and grouse about the governor forcing you to go home from work early and hunker down with your family while the storm passes.  Time was, to hear some indignant commuters tell it, the governor of a state with enough highly-educated people as Massachusetts shouldn't have had to tell his people that.

When was that time, pray tell?  1978?  No, the governor then had to issue the same type of travel ban.  So Massachusetts may be a Nanny State, but it's been one for a long time.

If I was a taxpayer in someplace like Massachusetts, however, I'd at least save some of my contempt for when the highway departments don't get the roads plowed quickly enough after a storm passes.

"We pay all these taxes, and the street isn't plowed YET!"  Can't you hear the rage tomorrow?
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