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Sometimes government needed
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Two years ago, President Obama was striding the beaches of New Jersey and spearheading the federal response to the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Gov. Chris Christie was praising the president and Washington's help for his battered state -- much to the dismay of his fellow Republicans.
Four out of 5 voters shared Christie's support for the president's actions, and Sandy helped solidify Obama's decisive victory over Mitt Romney just a few days later.
Today, the political landscape has shifted dramatically. The role of government has turned from an asset to a liability for Obama. His favorable rating in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll has sunk to 40 percent, the lowest mark of his presidency.
A string of missteps has soured the public and provided Republicans with a prime political opening. The botched rollout of Obamacare was compounded by scandals at the Veterans Administration, the IRS and the Secret Service. Then came Ebola.
A patient being treated at a Texas hospital died from the disease. Two nurses were infected, and one was allowed to board a plane to Cleveland.
A poll by Politico reports only 22 percent of Americans have "a lot of confidence" in the federal response to the disease -- a dreadful result for Democratic candidates already struggling to separate themselves from Obama.
To some extent, the administration is suffering from self-inflicted wounds. The problems with Obamacare were unacceptable and unforgivable, especially since the White House had to know Republicans would pounce on any mistake.
Sean G. Kaufman, an official at Emory University Hospital, which successfully treated two aid workers infected with Ebola, told the New York Times the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided guidelines to the Texas hospital that were "absolutely irresponsible and dead wrong."
On a deeper level, critics of the administration -- and Washington in general -- can be profoundly hypocritical. They "shoot at the government" when it suits their political purposes, tearing down its reputation and depriving it of adequate financing. And then they complain when the Feds fail to deliver the services their constituents want and expect.
In some cases, the federal government is an absolutely essential force in making life better for many Americans. That was true two years ago in New Jersey, when only Washington had the resources to step in and help victims of Hurricane Sandy.
And it's true today in the case of Ebola. Only the federal government is willing and able to fund the research that could eventually produce a drug to treat its victims, and a vaccine to halt its spread.
Government is not always the answer. But it's not always the enemy, either.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at