In the final hours of the 112th Congress, we witnessed a pathetically predictable but nonetheless despicable decision: the refusal to vote on Hurricane Sandy relief aid. Although those responsible will never truly be held accountable, we should take this opportunity to recognize the true power and danger that political relationships can have. The Republicans apparently decided that it was more advantageous for them to prevent relief from reaching Sandy victims since President Obama received his desired fiscal cliff deal. It should not take a natural disaster for this to get our attention. But since it has, the least we can do is consider the quality of the individuals that we are sending to Congress and their genuine concern for others. Or lack thereof.
Before Hurricane Sandy blasted his state, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was an overt supporter of Mitt Romney and had no shame in displaying his distaste with President Obama. But once the Jersey Shore closely resembled Mordor of Middle-Earth, the governor had no problem putting politics aside to get help to the people that put him and will keep him in office. He even went so far to say that he was impressed with President Obama’s response, something that the Republicans foolishly had a temper tantrum over. They didn’t even bother to think that any swing voters might see this as a reason not to vote for Republicans.
Governor Christie is a prime and sadly sparse example of a politician willing to forget whether he supports abortion, deporting all illegal immigrants, lowering taxes, or believes in evolution when people’s lives are on the line. He clearly and openly disagreed with President Obama and his policies. But when the lives of his constituents are concerned, he was first to quickly point out common ground that absolutely had to be reached. And he was also quick to call out members of his own party when they seemingly could not bring themselves to do the same when he asked them to. People do not have homes and just went through the holiday season without them. There are members in Congress, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), with enough audacity to believe the situation should not change at all.
While I was at home during the holidays visiting my family, my father showed me a letter that he received from Doctors Without Borders, an international organization that he regularly donates money to. The letter was laced with fundraising boilerplate language. But I noticed near the end of the letter, in bold font, the organization stated that it was collecting money and supplies specifically to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I am by no means an expert on the work of Doctors Without Borders but I do know that it typically does work in “developing nations.” I say this referring to nations where the capacity and infrastructure to alleviate the pressures of disaster and emergency situations are simply not available. This map illustrates the densities of their work throughout the globe.
Our nation, the United States of America, has the complete capacity and infrastructure to help each and every one of its citizens when the situations call for it. It vexes me that after a natural disaster, it simply refuses to. A hurricane hit a non-traditional hurricane region of our nation, people died, subways were closed, homes were lost, and food and power became luxuries. The people many of us elected precisely to make decisions in these situations have chosen to abandon fellow Americans who need help the most. And they have done it as if they were middle school teenage females holding a grudge over who is in whose clique.
We have no problem sending aid to Israel, a country that commits human rights violations against Palestinians every day. We can take dollars from taxpayers to strengthen Israel’s security and further fuel its settlement building. But we cannot help a family in New Jersey who lost their home to a hurricane on the brink of winter. It makes absolutely no sense for a situation to exist when my father, an American taxpayer, is asked by international organization for money to make sure that other American taxpayers receive proper aid and assistance after a hurricane. From where I’m sitting, giving money to Doctors Without Borders seems to have a much higher chance of reaching those affected by Sandy than giving money to Congress. A Congress that has yet to decide if it even wants to commit the aid and assistance at all. Why should an international organization even consider pulling its resources from “developing nations” to help out a “developed nation” that refuses to help its own citizens? And in the process, asking citizens of that developed nation to help in this effort?
This was a terrible message that the 112th Congress sent to the rest of us. We all know that political relationships define the direction of our nation, but they should never prevent individuals from remaining part of it. The newly appointed 113th Congress will vote on the same issue on Friday (and again later, for the other half of funding, later this month) and let’s hope it goes through. But it should never have come to this. We should never deliberate over the lives and well-being of our own citizens longer than we do about those who live beyond our borders. Especially considering that we as citizens elect those who will decide on how to proceed in both areas.