And poverty is an equal-opportunity offender, with 63 percent of all those poverty-stricken being white, according to 2009 census data, while more than 30 percent of Oklahoma’s African Americans live in poverty, as well as 29 percent of Hispanics and 22 percent of Native Americans. Partisan politics, conservative dogma and a nationwide Republican agenda are partly responsible.
Just recently, Gov. Fallin signed off on a bill that would severely limit food benefits to people out of work — keeping pace with the Republican Party’s ideological stance. State employees have endured significant cuts under her tenure, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. And Fallin, who has been a denier of climate change and global warming, now finds her state being declared a disaster zone.
In fact, the loss of life would have been much worse if not for the 16-minute warning received from scientists at the National Weather Service. But in 2007, Fallin — then a U.S. congresswoman — laughed off the effects of greenhouse gases. And in early 2011 she attacked the Environmental Protection Agency for attempting to enforce clean-air and clean-water restrictions on the state’s oil and gas industries.
There is a cognitive dissonance at the heart of GOP political ideology — denying climate change in the face of superstorms and record tornadoes, denying aid to the poor in the face of crippling unemployment and poverty, championing the tax-exempt status of the wealthy and their political allies, while asking the most vulnerable to “pay their fair share.”
The tensions between reason and the unreasonable were most apparent during the 2012 election cycle, when New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie praised President Obama’s handling of the federal response to Superstorm Sandy — much to the ire of GOP critics. Christie answered the criticism by explaining that President Obama had “kept every promise that he made,” and “what people expect from people they elect is to do their jobs.”
But the GOP isn’t alone in its dangerous delusions. It is aided by the very people who vote for the party — many of whom are poor, particularly rural whites in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Oklahoma. These voters live under constant threat from hurricanes and tornadoes but support candidates who seem to care more about achieving political ends than sound policy solutions, convinced, as they are, by Republican propaganda that somehow bigger government doesn’t help them but instead assists the black, brown and “undeserving” poor.
Hopefully the sad events surrounding the Oklahoma tornado tragedy can help change that.
Thousands have lost homes. Entire schools and hospitals have been flattened. Early estimates place damage costs at $2 billion. And in the face of such destruction, no one can deny that the government must serve its people.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.