Friday, May 24, 2013

When boots are blown away

     How are people struck by disaster supposed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they can’t find their boots?

     That’s surely the case for victims of the tornado that struck Moore, Okla., Monday, a tornado that dropped out of the sky and cut a two-mile-wide swath of devastation, destroying everything in its path.

     The Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and city and state workers arrived on the scene almost immediately to provide support for those whose lives were shattered. Yet even as search, rescue and retrieval efforts were under way, right-wing senators quibbled about how the country should pay for federal emergency assistance efforts.

     Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is OK with federal relief funding for his state as long as the money comes from not paying for some other need. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., is also opposed to any increase in federal spending, including disaster relief, unless it’s for a war.

     It never occurs to either, or to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah or Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to ask whether Americans would accept a small tax bump to help their countrymen. All three have sought federal funds for relief when their states faced fires, flooding and drought.

     Do the ordinary people who displayed heroism during the tornado deserve petty quibbling from a nation that’s still the world’s richest, even with its economic challenges? Plaza Towers Elementary School, partially flattened in the storm, will tell stories of those teachers who used their own bodies as shields to protect the children in their care. In the excruciating minutes when the tornado rolled through, we doubt they weighed the economic value of their own lives against the risk of trying to save their students.

     What kind of elected officials use a deadly disaster as an excuse to cut the federal budget, to inflict pain in other quarters in order to salve the pain in the city of Moore? What happens if they don’t find the money in budget cuts? Would they really leave fellow Americans to the miseries of a Midwestern summer in the open?

     America has so much beauty, such an abundance of natural resources, incredibly productive soils and abundant water. But like the rest of the Earth, America also has the whole panoply of natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and blizzards, as well as tornadoes.

     When a disaster completely overwhelms local or regional resources, Americans assume federal resources will step in. Democratic President Obama called Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and promised continued attention to Oklahomans for as long as they need it.

     How much better this was than to insist that the disaster victims seek the bootstraps of boots that were blown away.

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