So on Monday, as we all know, a tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, destroying communities and leading to widespread fatalities. To say that this is horrifying is to understate matters.
The calamity led blogger and public policy professor Michael O’Hare to write this post at the “Reality-Based Community” (try not to laugh). In its entirety, the original post read as follows:
Oklahoma is an oil state. Oklahomans vote for people like senators Inhofe and Coburn, who rail at the ‘myth’ of climate change. After all, there are millions and millions of dollars still to earn selling oil to burn: what more evidence does a reasonable Sooner need?
People who think science is more than a political flag one can choose to wave or not, depending on whether there’s profit in it, are pretty sure that one of the effects of global warming is increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather.
I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans. I don’t, but could the devastation in Moore possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines?
(Emphasis mine.) Actual “reality-based” commenters expressed a strong sense of shock and disgust that O’Hare would (a) seek to politicize the tragedy while the bodies are still warm, (b) tell us that he “wish[ed] [he] believed that a just Providence” sent the tornado “upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans,” and (c) said that while he didn’t believe it, he wouldn’t mind if “the devastation in Moore” could “possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines.” Because, of course, what the survivors really need right now is to be haunted by the thought that they might have brought this calamity upon themselves and their community thanks to the fact that they prefer to vote for Republican senators -- and because there is apparently a straight line that can be drawn from voting for a Republican senator to dying/being injured/losing your home and possessions in a tornado.
Recognizing that he might have gone way too far, O’Hare then wrote an update in which he told us that the “reference to Providence” was a “pointer” to the claim “trotted out (for example) after Katrina,” that natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished.” O’Hare then tells us that if he “wished” he believed that natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished, “I would feel OK about the consequences, I guess even the children whose school was shredded around them” (and who died as well, one might add). O’Hare then assures us that he doesn’t believe that “natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished” (thank Providence for small mercies), but
… actions like putting carbon back in the air from underground as fast as possible have consequences, consequences that fall most heavily on the least deserving: the poor people who will not have enough to eat as floods and droughts deepen and come more often, and all the children still unborn around the world who didn’t get to dance at the fossil fuel party but will still have to figure out how to live in a toasted planet – yes, and children in tornado alley who never voted for anyone.
I also believe that the time to talk about politics and how we engage with that amoral reality is while the manifestations of foolishness, especially their injustice, are salient, and that doing so shows respect and sympathy for those who suffered and died for no good reason other than the cupidity of their leadership and its willful ignorance (or worse, putative ignorance)
To which, my reply to O’Hare is “okay, but you still could have made that point without making comments that struck reasonable readers—including longtime fans of the blog you write for—as being utterly repulsive. You could have written ‘guys, this pattern of extreme weather will continue until we get climate change under control, and until we do, more people will die. Let’s please do something.’ You could have written ‘I am really outraged that our environmental policies are leading to more extreme weather, and more deaths.’ But you didn’t. You wrote instead ‘I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans. I don’t, but could the devastation in Moore possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines?’ Standing on its own, and even after the explanation you gave in your update, that’s repulsive. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell called, and they want their disgusting schtick back.”
As one of the commenters to O’Hare’s post noted, his post was in line with a tweet from Lizz Winstead, who is a co-creator of the Daily Show and who tweeted that “[t]his tornado is in Oklahoma so clearly it has been ordered to only target conservatives.” Unlike O’Hare, Winstead apologized for her tweet once the scope of the devastation became clear. Belated class is better than no class at all.
As for me, I wish I believed that a just Providence would send a sense of shame and wisdom to the conscience of Michael O’Hare. I don’t, but could the condemnation that he is getting from various quarters for his appalling comments possibly give him something to think about along these lines?