Earlier this summer, the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers crested their banks and flooded a wide area around Sioux City, Iowa. That in and of itself is not news — many of the major rivers in the Midwest flood regularly, and the Missouri had already caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Bismarck, N.D. before the floodwaters moved further downstream and reached Sioux City.

In election years, small, nondescript communities sometimes take on larger meanings. Most of the time, this happens because political pundits need metaphors to make their jobs easier. A good example of this would be the victory of a Republican, Bob Turner, in the recent special election to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner in New York’s 9th Congressional District. He’s only one representative out of 435, and since New York is about to lose a House seat in the next Congress, Turner will likely be out of a job in a few months anyway. But, like Richard Dreyfuss’s mashed potatoes in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the election has to mean something.

One of the towns on the banks of the Missouri that flooded this summer was Dakota Dunes in South Dakota. Dakota Dunes is a planned community, and is home to some very wealthy South Dakotans as well as an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course to entertain them. But, as a New York Times report gently pointed out, the name “Dakota Dunes” was not an accident. The dunes were created by river floods, and so it stood to reason that at some point the floodwaters would come again.

Of course, just because something “stands to reason” doesn’t make it a popular or widely-accepted idea. Only 172 homes in Dakota Dunes actually had flood insurance when the disaster struck. Of the homeowners who were insured, most of them were forced into carrying insurance by their mortgage providers. Anyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to be forced into making the sensible decision to carry flood insurance while living in a flood plain was lost. Except they weren’t entirely lost because the residents of Dakota Dunes promptly started asking for government assistance. They got $15 million in no-interest loans from South Dakota, and they now want the federal government to cover 75 percent of the remaining cleanup costs.

Congressman Ron Paul got in some trouble last week for saying something honest during Monday’s Republican presidential debate. Moderator Wolf Blitzer gave him the sort of pandering, heart-rending hypothetical question that always comes up during presidential debates: Given that you are against any health care reform that forces individuals to purchase coverage, would you be willing to let someone die who had developed a fatal disease after opting not to be insured? In a pique of intellectual honesty, Paul said “yes,” he would. I don’t agree with Paul on a lot of things: not on health insurance ad not even on what the word “money” means. I do give him credit though for being willing to admit the implications of his politics. He doesn’t have a lot of company in that regard. Republican front-runner and Texan Gov. Rick Perry spent most of his week claiming that he doesn’t actually believe Social Security is a bad idea even though he just wrote a book in which he called it a “Ponzi scheme.”

Admitting those implications is exactly why Paul isn’t going to be president. No one enjoys being confronted with the long-term implications of their decisions. Primary voters, in particular, want to hear crazy ideas — things that those “fat cats in Washington don’t want you to hear!” — and they have no interest in dealing with consequences. Slash taxes, but only stop spending on those things that benefit “other people” — spending on projects in your neck of the woods is always a good idea. Privatize Social Security, but pretend that privatization will never run the risk of more seniors finding themselves in poverty during retirement.

Or, if we start thinking about South Dakota once again — build your house in a flood plain, refuse to purchase flood insurance and then ask your fellow taxpayers to foot the bill when your house gets flooded. It’s disingenuous and self-serving, but it’s also where the smart money is.

Neill Mohammad can be reached at neilla@umich.edu.

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