Like most Americans, my eyes were fixed on the television Tuesday night while ground and aerial images of Moore, Oklahoma – the suburban community ripped apart by a devastating EF4 tornado – were broadcast on the evening news. And like most Americans, I felt heartache with each survivor’s account of the storm; and from the photos of homes and buildings leveled in only a matter of minutes; and the news of at least 24 dead, nine of whom were kids.
But my heartache was replaced by revulsion on Wednesday, when politics was candidly thrown in the mix of turmoil and anguish suffered by victims of the storm. It seems like that’s how it always goes with natural diasters. From Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy, it seems there’s hardly ever a traumatic situation where politics as usual doesn’t come into play, even when it’s clear that political bantering should temporarily be put on the back burner.
In the case of Moore, the monster that is politics reared its ugly head when journalists noted that Oklahoma senators Tom Coburn and James Inhofe are both active critics of FEMA (the very definition of irony in my book). Both are consistent naysayers of federal emergency aid – and both voted against FEMA assistance for victims of Superstorm Sandy last fall.
Naturally, the senators’ tune seemed to change this week. While they said it was unwarranted in the case of Sandy, it seems that disaster aid has suddenly taken on a new purpose for them and they called on FEMA to help the most devastated parts of the Sooner State.
It didn’t take long for people to shout “hypocrites.” Of course, these accusations can be justified by actions taken by the two senators to block FEMA funding to ravaged parts of New Jersey and New York City after Sandy hit (measures they say were necessary because FEMA funding to the northeast included extra spending for areas that saw little to no impact from the storm). Even so, the whole ordeal is leading many people to say Oklahoma shouldn’t receive any help from FEMA because of the political games played to block money from the organization in the past.
But whether you agree or disagree with the senators or their adversaries, my underlying point remains the same: The time following the deadly storms in Oklahoma should be a time of grieving and support, not a time for politics.
The notion that Oklahoma should be denied funding based on the political viewpoints of its senators is – in my opinion – nothing short of deplorable. FEMA funds, after all, are not meant for the senators or politicians in general. Instead, it’s to help the people most affected by the storm – the people who, in the blink of an eye, lost everything except the clothes on their back. To deny a community the support it needs based on the votes of its representatives is turning a blind eye to what is so clearly a region in serious distress.
Not to sound cliche, but I believe there’s a time and a place for politics. And this is not one of them.
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