POSTED ON MAY 29, 2013:
Turning a blind eye until they need something
If everyone subscribed to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe's you're-on-your-own indifference to non-Oklahoma natural disasters, our state would be S.O.L. today.
Inhofe, you will recall, voted against Hurricane Sandy relief, piously declaring that too much non-Sandy pork was tucked into the legislation.
Now, Inhofe evidently thinks America should rally -- no questions asked -- around Oklahoma during its time of need.
If you look up the word hypocrite in the dictionary, you'll find Inhofe's mug shot.
Unfortunately, Inhofe's nonsensical view is all too common in Oklahoma these days -- especially among our congressional delegation.
His Senate sidekick, Dr. Tom Coburn, not only voted against Sandy relief, but he also says he'll support emergency aid for his fellow Oklahomans only if the cost is offset by other cuts in federal spending.
Those who've lost loved ones and/or all their material possessions? In Coburn's world, controlling federal spending trumps serving our shell-shocked, grieving brothers and sisters during their darkest hour.
Can you spell c-a-l-l-o-u-s?
Green Country's freshman Tea Party twins, U.S. Reps. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa and Markwayne Mullin of Muskogee, also turned thumbs down to Sandy aid.
They are either ignorant of -- or indifferent to -- the fact that Oklahoma is located in the geographical heart of tornado alley and ranks third in federal disaster and fire claims, behind only behemoths Texas and California.
Now the entire nation, if not the world, gets to watch as Oklahoma's elected elite tries mightily to explain why it's good to support emergency aid in this case, but not when Superstorm Sandy devastated the northeast.
Sadly, Inhofe's buffoonery is all too often on display. But he was more comical than usual when faced questions on MSNBC about his change of heart on emergency aid.
"Well, let's look at that (Sandy relief)," Inhofe said. "That was totally different. They were getting things -- for instance that was supposed to be in New Jersey, they had things in the Virgin Islands, they were fixing roads there, they were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C., everyone was getting in and exploiting the tragedy taking place. That won't happen in Oklahoma."
Really? Perhaps he didn't notice that when the ultra-conservative Oklahoma Legislature quickly approved spending $45 million of the state's Rainy Day Fund to help with the disaster, the package also included the first pay raise for state troopers in seven years.
Hmmmm. A pay hike for troopers? What does that have to do with emergency tornado assistance? One could argue, I suppose, that troopers were essential to securing the war-zone-like areas of devastation and to search efforts. But at the end of the day, isn't that really the same as slipping road or roof repairs into the Sandy package?
That's the way politics works. Lawmakers often are on the lookout for opportunities to add perfectly good, reasonable proposals -- like the well-deserved trooper pay raise -- to legislation that is moving more quickly through the system.
Yes, we may not agree with everything that's tucked in. But politics is the art of compromise. What folks in New Jersey need may not be what folks in Oklahoma need. But we're all in this together, aren't we? Especially during times of emergency.
One of the sanest voices in Oklahoma's congressional delegation is U.S. Rep. Tom Cole. You would expect unequivocal support of federal aid to Moore, since that's his hometown. But Cole also supported Sandy aid -- without Coburn's precious offsets -- because it was the right, humane thing to do.
"Once a disaster starts, to me that's the end of a discussion," Cole told ABC News. "Now we need to focus on the Americans that are in a difficult spot. They don't need to be watching a big political battle, they need to be sure they're getting help."
It is possible, if not probable, that Congress won't end up voting on aid for Oklahoma, so Inhofe and company can continue to play their silly political games without being forced to formally codify their hypocrisy by casting actual votes.
State officials estimate the tornado damage at about $2 billion. The $11 billion in the federal Emergency Management Fund should be more than adequate to cover relief and rebuilding efforts in Oklahoma. Impressively, corporations pledged at least $22 million to help with the relief effort. And generous Oklahomans -- much as they did in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing -- yet again opened their wallets, providing financial donations to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other groups and delivering relief supplies to makeshift centers across the state.
To her credit, Gov. Mary Fallin -- like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the aftermath of Sandy -- publicly thanked President Obama and the swift federal response to the tornadoes, something that no doubt rankles the noisy fringe elements of her party.
"The state of Oklahoma is experiencing an unimaginable tragedy, but we know we will recover and emerge stronger," the governor said. "As we work to rebuild, we appreciate President Obama's kind words, compassion and his commitment to aid in the recovery effort.
"I am glad the president plans to visit Moore to see firsthand the terrible damage that has occurred here, to speak with first responders, and to visit with the families who have been impacted," Fallin said.
The federal government will no doubt remain the Tea Party's favorite whipping boy. But at times like these, we are clearly reminded that the federal government is our fastest, best way to get help to areas that need it the most.
Is it perfect? No, of course not. But ask Gov. Fallin or Moore city officials if they'd prefer to shoulder the burden alone. Not only no, but hell, no.
It's also a good time to remember that the federal government is "us" -- "we the people" -- not some mythical, jack-booted, Oz-like thugs created in the fertile paranoia of Glenn Beck's mind.
Though Coburn's position on emergency aid is appallingly indifferent, it is important to note that at least he's consistent. He treats all federal spending similarly -- whether it's what his constituents want or need. He plays no favorites.
Inhofe, by contrast, makes it up as he goes along. He's famous for bellyaching about pork, but he's a master of steering it to Oklahoma.
It's just that in his mind, the federal largesse he lands for Oklahoma isn't pork -- it's somehow sanctified and righteous. Other federal spending -- unless it's for his oil and gas buddies or the military -- is wasteful.
I don't know about you, but I'm relieved that other elected leaders in this country are more generous of spirit and heart than Inhofe.
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