The New York Times’ editorial page is well known for its left-leaning bias. The paper itself is often criticized for ignoring stories that are embarrassing for Democrats (Benghazi-gate being the most recent). Yet for all these flaws, the paper has retained the image of some slight shred of dignity among members of the media, given its long history and previously august status.

However, today’s editorial on the federal government’s response to Hurricane Sandy might be seen by observers to remove that slight shred. Why? Because the paper uses it to do something that both sides of the political spectrum seem to have mutually agreed is bad taste – namely, politicizing the storm response by using it as an excuse to attack GOP nominee Mitt Romney, in an editorial entitled “A Big Storm Requires Big Government.”

Romney’s alleged crime is that he has said (in the past) that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should have some of its power transferred to the states and the private sector. As to how the Times interpreted this suggestion, it must be read to be believed:

Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

The agency was put back in working order by President Obama, but ideology still blinds Republicans to its value. Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.

Yes, that’s right. According to the Times, because Mitt Romney and the Republican party believe that the private sector can do something better than a federal agency in Washington, they must want poor people to go without aid and suffer for having the audacity to live on the East Coast. Really, what other motive could there be?

The Times’ accusation that Republicans disapprove of emergency aid has not correlated very well with the response of actual Republican officeholders. Consider New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie’s recent heaping of praise on President Obama for apparently handling the crisis well in Christie’s state of New Jersey:

In TV interviews and on Twitter, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch backer of Mitt Romney, was effusive in his praise on Tuesday for President Barack Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy.

“It’s been very good working with the president,” Christie said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful.”

On NBC’s “Today,” Christie said the president had been “outstanding” and FEMA’s response has been “excellent.”[...]

Christie said he spoke with Obama three times on Monday, including at midnight, when Obama agreed to speed along an major disaster declaration for New Jersey without all the “normal FEMA mumbo jumbo.” The declarations for New Jersey and New York were issued this morning.

One presumes Christie’s denunciation of the “normal FEMA mumbo jumbo” must upset more than a few editorial writers at the Times, to say nothing of President Obama’s apparent agreement with Christie that a bureaucratic organization like FEMA might be ill-suited to act quickly in situations like this. Nevertheless, perhaps articles like this will compel critics to give the Times credit on one point: They may well be an authority on what does and does not count as an “absurd notion.”