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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Republicans, Disasters, and Their Idea of a 'Real America'

Battered US flag flying over debris
Steve Benen believes we won't be seeing a big disaster relief fight over the tornado disaster in Oklahoma. I hope he's right. The Republican Party's refusal to fund relief after Hurricanne Sandy was shameful at best, anti-American at worst. While Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn quickly decided to hold his constituents hostage to budget cuts, he doesn't have a lot of allies in that effort. By yesterday, he was already forced into damage control mode and the rest of the GOP was taking the opposite position.

Many prominent Republicans sounded downright Democratic yesterday. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who opposed Sandy relief, said, "Finding some way to offset is not the priority. Meeting the known and immediate needs as quickly as possible is the priority." House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) added, "I really don't think disasters of this type should be offset. We have an obligation to help those people. We'll worry about our budgetary items back here, but the aid has to be there."

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said, "I think they should get every penny they need. I've been through this. We can do the political games later on, the important thing is to get them the aid as quickly as they need it and not to make a political issue out of it." Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) added, "[A]t the end of the day my objective here is to make sure the people here get the help they need in a timely fashion."
"Here's hoping we'll see a return to traditional American norms when it comes to post-disaster aid. For generations," Benen writes. "Congress didn't fight over offsets in the wake of a crisis, it simply moved to help American communities in their time of need. That changed after Republicans took control of the House in 2010, but given GOP reactions yesterday, we may be seeing the first signs that the party is rethinking the utility of its posture."

What we need to remember, however, was that Sandy happened right before the election. President Obama got a little bounce for his competent handling of the crisis and New Jersy Governor Chris Christie praised him for his leadership. It wasn't the deciding factor in the election, but it was a deciding factor, with 41% of respondents in a one exit poll saying it was either the "most important factor" in casting their vote or just an "important factor."


If there's one thing we know about Republicans, it's that they're petty. They made up excuses to hold up Sandy relief, citing non-existent pork. James Inhofe, Oklahoma's other senator, said that it was just a bad time to deal with the problem. "There’s always a lot of theater right before Christmas time..." he said. "We shouldn’t be talking about it right before Christmas." Of course, this was after his party held up the bill for two months.

Of course, Sandy was very different from the tornado in Oklahoma. Sandy wiped out Democratic neighborhoods. Oklahoma is another story. The state voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in a complete rout: 66.8% to 33.2%, In the county where the tornadoes hit, Mitt didn't do as well, but he did extremely well nonetheless: 58.3% to 41.7%.

It could simply be that their unwillingness to aid their fellow citizens in a time of crisis was one of the many things for which Republicans have taken a beating in public opinion. In which case, Benen may get his wish and see a return to normalcy for generations. Their experiment in post-disaster stinginess didn't turn out as well as they'd hoped.

But if the reason for the sudden Republican generosity of spirit is the political identity and demographics of the victims, then probably not. Given the way the party has behaved in recent years, that motivation is not something I would put passed them. Republicans have decided that entire regions of the country are less American than others. It's not unusual to hear a conservative rail against "east coast liberals" or "San Franscisco values." In her run with John McCain, Sarah Palin appealed to small towns as the "Real America," suggesting that urban voters weren't sufficiently American for the Republican party.

Can we trust these people not to punish regions they don't like by withholding aid? Until they prove otherwise, I'm going to say it's at least possible that we can't.


[photo by The National Guard]

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