THE wedge tornado that tore through Moore had barely finished roping out when the tragedy started being exploited to score political points, drive political wedges or demonize political opponents.
This is to be expected in our tweet now, think later age. Yet each natural disaster or high-profile crime seems to set a new low in insensitive, callous and vicious commentary.
Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor even before some of the first responders were on the scene Monday to denounce Republicans for alleged environmental misdeeds that he claims lead to major natural disasters. Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead used Twitter to telegraph a sick joke: “This tornado is in Oklahoma so clearly it has been ordered to only target conservatives.” She later apologized.
In letters and phone calls to The Oklahoman, residents of areas affected last year by Superstorm Sandy expressed disgust for the Oklahoma politicians who voted against federal relief for Sandy victims. None of this was preceded by expressions of sympathy for the victims, which is but an afterthought if it enters their minds at all.
Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation, particularly U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, weren't against Sandy relief or federal funds for Oklahoma disasters per se. They just think other federal spending should be cut to pay for it. Sure to come are attacks on Gov. Mary Fallin for accepting disaster relief money from Washington but turning down Medicaid expansion funds. This is an absurd comparison. It equates a disaster caused by forces beyond our control to the fiscal disaster from a program over which Washington had full control.
Records show 1957 was a particularly bad year for tornado fatalities, as were 1917, 1927 and of course 1998, 1999 and 2011. Perhaps Sen. Whitehouse could identify the dots that connect these years to what Republicans were doing at the time to rape and overheat the planet.
One letter writer blamed the Moore death toll on greed. Houses there are too tightly spaced, he said. Developers are “a gang of thieves” in the writer's mind. “Time now to get a rope!” he concluded, apparently before taking time to consider that Moore's population density isn't high by world standards and the people who bought homes in Moore couldn't have afforded them were they built on 6-acre tracts.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, anti-abortion advocates rushed to exploit the tragedy by comparing the child death toll with the average number of abortions per day. After Sandy Hook, gun control advocates moved in swiftly for the kill, less concerned about grieving parents than they were the next vote in Congress.
Some humor did emerge this week. A woman in Vermont wrote to say that her state doesn't have tornadoes and she's surprised “that people don't want to move to somewhere else where you would not need to experience this terror.” She asked Oklahomans to consider relocating: “We need people to move here and open businesses.” Not mentioned was the terror of Vermont winters.
A hurried message from a woman in California said she was “deeply saddened by the loss and devastation that OKC has endured due to the Earthquake.” At least she can't blame quakes on climate change. Syndicated cartoonist Milt Priggee did blame the tornado on global warming. His crude image of destruction and the sign “Welcome to Moore OK” was captioned: “Is this an act of God or decades of insisting climate change is just a liberal hoax...?”
Is this the work of a complete idiot or just the most insensitive blather imaginable?
There is a time to mourn and a time to grieve. There is a time to seek policy changes and even to cite real-world events in support of those changes. But the clock shouldn't start ticking while victims are still in the rubble.