'Historic' blizzard: A nanny state freak-out?

A man walks through the snowy streets of New York City. Image copyright Getty Images

As a massive winter storm threatened the mid-Atlantic and New England states on Monday, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves with a warning.

The real threat to the public, he contended, wasn't from an impending icy blast; it was from big-government nanny state liberals like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who use predictions of impending disaster to expand their power.

"Part and parcel of liberalism is the nanny state and to assume that we can't take care of ourselves," he said. "The assumption that we don't know what's best for us. That we have to be told don't drive when the roads are slick. That we have to be told, make sure you bundle up and put on extra layers if you're going to go out when it's cold. And make sure you don't shovel your snow too rapidly; it could lead to a heart attack."

He continued: "It's all predicated on the fact that we are idiots and don't know how to protect ourselves and don't know what's best and don't know how to make proper judgments."

The threat of natural disasters and impending crises helps government control the people, he said. It allows government to become part of the community.

"It gives them licence and freedom to infiltrate as much of your daily life as they can, under the guise of giving you advice, under the guise of looking out for you, under the guise of trying to protect you," he said. "It's the assumption that we're all children."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rush Limbaugh says that government storm warnings "assume we're all children"

As with many of Mr Limbaugh's rants, his nanny-state allegations were met with derision from the left.

"See, in a free America, no one would even need any warnings of hazardous weather conditions," Kaili Joy Gray of Wonkette quips.

"They'd just look out the window and see for themselves and instinctively know, without Idiot Mayor de Blasio telling them, for example, 'to avoid the city's parks in the immediate aftermath of the storm because the weight of snow could snap tree branches and send them plunging to the ground'. And if they need the liberal nanny state to tell them things like that, well, they probably deserve whatever misfortune befalls them for being idiots."

"That is how freedom dies, sheeple," she concludes. "With weather warnings."

The big-government blizzard critique wasn't limited to Mr Limbaugh's radio programme, however. Rich Lowry of the National Review also took some shots at the "government-imposed freak-out".

"It used to be that Manhattan basically kept moving during any snowfall because the cars are constantly churning up the snow on the roads and store-owners and supers are constantly shoveling the sidewalks in front of their businesses and buildings," he writes. "Last night, everything ground to a halt, not because of the snow, but because the state and city said so."

Sarah Noble rages in particular against the overnight non-essential travel ban that New York state imposed on Monday.

"Nanny Governor Andrew Cuomo told people in a TV ad to stay in their homes or he'd fine them $300," she writes for the Independent Sentinel. "That was before the storm-that-never-was even hit. He would force you to stay in your house. How dare he tell me to stay indoors!"

Business Insider's Henry Blodget says he understands that it's the job of politicians to "protect the people", but that they can go too far.

"I understand that they want to appear responsive and proactive, lest they later be accused of slacking on the job," he writes. "But there's a difference between serving the public by providing basic emergency services in a timely and responsive manner and becoming a nanny state."

The conservative blizzard blowback just goes to prove that politicians can never win, writes the Atlantic's Dashiell Bennett.

"Underestimate, and you weren't prepared enough," he writes. "Overestimate, and you look hysterical. As those meteorologists could tell you, when dealing with public opinion, you're pretty much always going to lose."

If anything, says the Verge's Kwame Opam, the overreaction to the recent blizzard shows just how sensitive politicians are to the safety of the public - and to the threat of much more damaging criticism if they put lives at risk.

"Decisions to ban all travel have a material effect on the electorate, and do double duty in showing concern for human life and helping protect said politician's viability," he writes.

As it turns out, the great blizzard of 2015 wasn't all it was cracked up to be - although if you ask residents in hard-hit parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, they'll surely disagree.

With 6in of snow in New York City, however, and city and state leaders left answering questions about whether they overreacted, Mr Limbaugh is probably feeling vindicated in his critique.

He would do well to remember the calm preparation he preached as Super Storm Sandy approached the mid-Atlantic seaboard in 2012, however.

"Even if the storm doesn't get you, there are going to be riots for food and gasoline," he said, recounting a listener's warning. "Get out."

It's a good thing the nanny-state government didn't say that.