Full story on the TN house fire - video

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Jerry Sturdivant

Oct 8, 2010, 7:30:07 PM10/8/10

Conservatism's Trial By Fire

Last week, an accident inside Gene Cranick's Obion, TN home started a fire. As the fire quickly spread throughout the house, the Cranicks escaped from their home and called their fire department. Yet the local firefighters, operating under the auspices of the South Fulton Fire Department (SFFD), refused to respond to the call, noting that their service was available to the rural residents of Obion County only by subscription, and the Cranicks had not paid the annual $75 fee. When the fire spread to the surrounding properties, the neighbors -- who had paid the fee -- called the firefighters. And so, the firefighters arrived on the scene, but they stood by and watched as the Cranick residence burned to the ground, refusing to assist the pleading family -- which offered to pay them anything on the spot to help. Even though most of the country was outraged by the case of the Cranicks, leading conservatives in the media immediately jumped at the chance to defend the actions of the SFFD and condemn the family in question. The story of Gene Cranick's home illustrates the ascendancy of a compassion-less conservative philosophy that believes in the on-your-own society and has virtually abandoned the common-good creed that we are our brothers keepers. Only by rededicating ourselves to rebuilding an American Dream that works for all Americans can progressives repudiate this merciless philosophy. 

A MORALLY DEPRAVED POLICY: As firefighters stood by idly watching, the fire that consumed the Cranick's family home also took the lives of their four pets. The Obion County policy of using subscription-only firefighting originated in 1990, but it has a parallel to the 19th century, when it was common for Americans to have to purchase private firefighter insurance or risk their homes being burned down without any hope of preventing it. In 2008, the county's fire department along with the conservativecounty commission reviewed the policy and determined that it would continue to offer fire services to rural parts of the county via subscription to the SFFD, rejecting a paltry 0.13 percent increase in property taxes on households to fund a proper fire service that would respond to all calls. When a local news station asked Mayor David Crocker how he could justify the firefighters' refusal to help the Cranicks, he told them that the policy was just like buying auto insurance from a private insurance company, and that they wouldn't "expect an insurance company to pay for an unprotected vehicle after it wrecked." Despite widespread outrage over the event, the county commission's budget committee met Monday night and decided to expand the subscription-only fire service to even more towns. Union City Fire Department Chief Kelly Edmison objected to the new expansion, saying that "the best option is a true fire tax. It eliminates this having 911 or whatever check to say, 'Are they covered or not covered?' The last thing a firefighter wants to do is to not be able to help when they'd like to." 

It didn't take long for leading conservatives to leap to the defense of Obion County and the SFFD. After the National Review's Daniel Foster wrote that he saw "no moral theory" that would justify the actions of the firefighters, his fellow writers immediately attacked him. "Dan, you are 100 percent wrong," wrote Kevin Williamson. "The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates -- and the problems they create for themselves are their own. These free-riders [referring to the Cranicks] have no more right to South Fulton's firefighting services than people in Muleshoe, Texas, have to those of NYPD detectives." Next, Jonah Goldberg, while admitting that the story is "sad," said it would probably "save more houses over the long haul" because it would incentivize homeowners to subscribe to the fire service in the future. Conservative writer John Derbyshire joined in by saying he was "entirely with the South Fulton fire department," explaining that the policy was fostering personal responsibility. One of the country's most famous right-wingers, Glenn Beck, along with his producer Pat Gray, mocked and condemned the Cranick family on his radio show. Gray adopted a thick southern drawl to mock Gene Cranick's accent, while Beck explained that people who look at things "just on raw feeling are not going to understand" that the SFFD was justified in not helping the family. He then went on to say that if the fire department had helped, they'd just be allowing the Cranicks to sponge "off [their] neighbor's resources." He concluded, "this is the kind of stuff that's going to have to happen, we are going to have to have these kinds of things." The American Family Association's Brian Fischer even went as far as to say that the "fire department did the right and Christian thing. ... Critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian values of individual responsibility and accountability." Leading conservative blog Hot Air, one of the few conservative voices to condemn the actions of the SFFD firefighters, wrote that "95 percent" of the commenters on their blog will likely respond to the story by saying, "Right on, let it burn. A contract's a contract!" MSNBC host Keith Olbermann asked Gene Cranick to respond to conservatives attacking his family and siding with Obion County. Cranick answered, "I respond to those people like this: wait until the shoe is on the other foot." 

Unfortunately, the responses by these leading conservatives are far from an aberration. Rather, they are emblematic of a conservative movement that believes in the on-your-own society and has declared war on empathy. During the debate over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, numerous conservatives attacked Sotomayor and progressives who backed her for their belief that a justice should possess empathy. A poll released that summer showed that 56 percent of self-identified Republicans believe that empathy was not an "important characteristic" for a Supreme Court Justice to possess, while 73 percent of self-identified Democrats did. Indeed, conservatives have taken to attacking people who are down on their luck, rather than giving them a hand up. Two days ago, FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey advocated for completely eliminating federal funding for higher education, which would deprive 19 million Americans who applied for college assistance this year of the ability to get federally subsidized loans and grants. Senate conservatives have repeatedly come together to filibuster the extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans who can't find work in the poor economy. Leading conservative and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein wrote at the right-wing American Spectator that Americans "who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities....who do not know how to do a day's work." Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV) warned that extending unemployment insurance was "creating hobos." The Associated Press discovered last month that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction aid for Haiti earthquake survivors over an obscure objection about bureaucratic redundancy. Yet it isn't enough for progressives to simply rebuke conservatives for their lack of empathy. They must proudly embrace an alternative vision: one of an America that is just and fair in its actions at home and abroad, in the renewed spirit of the American Dream.



Think Progerss



Oct 9, 2010, 3:31:40 PM10/9/10
<Think Progerss>

Its interlaced ground effect!

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