The President announced that he was instructing his disaster response team to get tornado victims in Oklahoma everything they need "right away." The President described the devastation that destroyed the Oklahoma City suburbs as, "one of the most destructive tornados in history. The president also offered his prayers and emphasized that there was a long road of recovery ahead. But he said the victims wouldn't travel alone and they would have all the resources that they needed.
The President's concern for the victims of Oklahoma's tornados stands in stark contrast to the appalling lack of concern shown by Oklahoma's two U.S. Senators toward the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Senators James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, claim to be fiscal conservatives who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.
Inhofe, the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has publicly stated that he does not believe that human activities cause climate change. Inhofe regularly repeats his denial that human activity contributes to climate change and he describes that claim as a hoax. Inhofe insists that the possibility that humans are influencing climate change is impossible because "God's still up there" and that it is "outrageous" and arrogant for people to believe human beings are "able to change what He is doing in the climate."
In 2011, Inhofe and Coburn opposed legislation that would have granted necessary funding for FEMA when the agency was set to run out of money. Sending the funds to FEMA would have been "unconscionable," Coburn said at the time.
At the end of last year, Inhofe and Coburn both supported an effort to dramatically reduce the amount of disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy. In a December, 2012 press release, Coburn complained that the Sandy Relief bill contained "wasteful spending," and he identified a series of items he objected to, including "$12.9 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies."
In Tuesday's edition of The New York Daily News, reporters Dan Friedman and Joseph Straw ("Oklahoma Senator Who Voted 'No' on Sandy Aid Calls Home-State Tornado 'totally different'") regaled their readers with the supreme irony and unabashed hypocrisy of the abrupt volte-face by Inhofe and Coburn when it came to disaster relief for Oklahoma. These two senators - who represent a state would be even poorer without the "welfare" that it consistently receives in the form of federal tax transfers through government spending paid for by taxpayers in wealthier blue states such has New York - obstructed federal disaster aide to the Northeast states for months on the pretense that much of the spending was wasteful, but now unabashedly demand immediate federal aide to their state, irrespective of the cost.
The Daily News' story quoted Senator Inhofe to the
effect that "everybody" was "exploiting" the Sandy tragedy and "that
won't happen in Oklahoma." Without a scintilla of shame or a glimmer of
embarrassment, Inhofe confirmed that he would support aid for victims of
the Oklahoma tornado because the two situations are "totally different"
and that the Hurricane Sandy bill was loaded with pork.
The Daily News did note that the Sandy relief bill initially contained money for projects outside of areas damaged by Sandy (in the hopes of attracting enough votes from resistant GOP legislators to get the bill through Congress), but that the spending represented a small portion of the massive bill, and that most of the proposed spending was eventually dropped from the legislation as a majority of House Republicans voted against the legislation. Friedman and Straw concluded their article with the comment that "The Sandy relief legislation did not contain money to put roofs on homes in Washington, but there were funds to repair museum roofs damaged by the hurricane."
For his part, Senator Coburn claims that he wants any federal aid for victims of Monday's tornado to be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, his spokesman said Tuesday."He believes we should help disaster victims by directing aid from less vital areas of the budget," John Hart, an aide to the Republican senator, said in an e-mail reported by the Bloomberg News.
Tuesday evening, Hart said that the senator will seek to ensure
that any additional funding for tornado disaster relief in Oklahoma will
be offset by cuts to federal spending elsewhere in the budget."That's
always been his position," Hart said as he indignantly claimed that
Senator Coburn had "never made parochial calculations" about Oklahoma's
disproportionate share of disaster funds, "as his voting record and
campaign against earmarks demonstrates." Hart piously concluded that
Senator Coburn, "makes no apologies for voting against disaster aid
bills that are often poorly conceived and used to finance priorities
that have little to do with disasters"
According to Christina Wilkie of The Huffington Post ("Oklahoma Senators, Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Face Difficult Options On Disaster Relief"), Oklahoma currently ranks third in the nation after Texas and California with respect to total federal disaster and fire declarations, which are required to trigger the federal emergency relief funding process and that last month, President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for the state of Oklahoma following severe snowstorms.
Wilkie also reports that, in January of 2007, Coburn urged federal officials to speed disaster relief aid after the state faced a major ice storm. One year later, in 2008, Senator Inhofe pointed with pride to the fact that emergency relief from the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be given to 24 Oklahoma counties. He stated that "The impact of severe weather has been truly devastating to many Oklahoma communities across the state. I am pleased that the people whose lives have been affected by disastrous weather are getting much-needed federal assistance."
Today, Oklahoma is a hard-scrabble state. According to the 2010 U.S. Census and the American Community Survey's 5-Year estimates, the state ranks 41st in median income and 43rd in per capita income. Reports compiled by the state's Department of Human Services, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and the Oklahoma Policy Institute show that Oklahoma's poverty rate as of 2011 was 15.7 percent - which was above the national average of 13.2 percent. The poverty rate for children in the state was 22 percent; about 63 percent its impoverished citizens were identified by the 2009 to census data as white. More than 30 percent of Oklahoma's African-Americans fell below the federal poverty line as of 2009, as did almost 22 percent of its Indian population, and 29 percent of the Hispanics who lived there.
Oklahoma gained statehood in November 1907. Ironically, Howard Zinn reminds us that, as late as 1914, the Socialist Party in the newly admitted state of Oklahoma had 12,000 members - more than New York state - and it elected over 100 socialists to office including six members of the Oklahoma state legislature. Many of these socialists were the children of the German emigrees who had settled in the vicinity of the Oklahoma territory after the European "Revolutions" of 1848. Today, by contrast, Oklahoma, is a solidly "red state" where even the most tepid reform Democrats are often excoriated as dangerous radicals.
Over time, the descendants of these immigrants have eschewed their ancestors' radicalism and Oklahoma has now become profoundly reactionary state. Although the state voted Democratic in all but two presidential elections through 1948, it has not voted for a Democrat since, with the sole exception of Lyndon Johnson's lopsided victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964.
The lore of its frontier beginnings and the "rugged individualism" that this mythology of the Wild West perpetuates has instilled among Oklahomans the same kind of false consciousness that Thomas Frank describes in What's The Matter With Kansas? Jonathan Schwartz in today's edition of The New York Times ("Why No Safe Room to Run To? Cost and Culture of the Plains"), describes the uniform lack of requirements across the state for below-ground storm shelters in houses, schools and businesses, despite the increasing prevalence of deadly tornados.
Senators Inhofe and Coburn have successfully built their political careers upon their shameless but uncanny ability to recognize that a majority of Oklahomans are focused only on short-term, immediate needs and will, as a result, regularly ignore their long-term best interests, including the need for sensible public regulation. Their voting records show that, while they have ill-served the real needs of their constituents, neither Inhofe nor Coburn have ever met a special interest that they can't support. At the same time, they have enthusiastically pandered to the anti-government hysteria that now enthralls the GOP.
Petulance and bad bile are never prescriptions for courageous or successful leaders; rather are they are hallmarks of demagogues who threaten the very foundations of democracy. If President Obama were as petty and small-minded as Senators Inhofe and Coburn, he could have chosen to delay the declaration of a disaster that he promptly issued or, in giving the state and its elected leadership a dose their own red state rhetoric, he could have declared that Oklahoma was officially "on its own."
President Obama, because he owes a responsibility to all Americans, acted with dignity, compassion and empathy. For that action, he will be applauded by everyone who understands that America will never fulfill its promise until every elected official recognizes and acknowledges that government is not the enemy and that, in a vibrant democracy, it must serve as the agent to promote the public interest on behalf of all citizens. This duty is especially imperative because the political voices of so many have been muted as a result of the increasing volume of noise generated by special, monied interests with their armies of well-paid lobbyists and their enormous, tax deductible advertising budgets.