Whether natural or manmade, extreme events often tell us something important about human beings, revealing their priorities and reflecting their character. So it was with Hurricane Irene, which allowed certain prominent proponents of right-wing ideology to expose themselves in full.
Irene happily turned out to be an event far less extreme than expected, at least so far as most of the East Coast was concerned. But nobody could be sure of that until Monday afternoon. So while millions of people still had reason to fear much worse, two of the leading Republicans in Congress sought to use the approaching hurricane for their own partisan and ideological purposes -- and exposed just how little they care about the suffering of Americans who might be unlucky enough to be struck by disaster.
It was an object lesson in what we can expect from the right in power -- and an irritating reminder of how badly conservative government failed six years ago when Hurricane Katrina struck.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor set the tone earlier in the week, when he issued a statement following the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that sent tremors northward hundreds of miles from Richmond, VA -- the state's capital and his hometown. Always more eager to display ideology than compassion, Cantor told reporters during a tour of the quake's damage in his district "the problem is that people in Virginia don't have earthquake insurance." Of course, earthquake damage is exceedingly rare in the East, so most homeowner policies don't include such coverage (as any insurance expert could have informed Cantor). To him "the problem" is not that his constituents suffered unforeseeable destruction and needed relief, but that they were not sufficiently clairvoyant to buy protection in the private sector.
Then Cantor insisted that before Congress approves any federal support for the earthquake's victims -- a category of aid usually approved quickly and without debate -- there will have to be cuts elsewhere in the budget. Last spring he made the same egregious demand, after a series of record-breaking tornadoes ripped through the Midwest and South, killing hundreds of people and inflicting billions of dollars in damage. Holding disaster victims hostage to his agenda of cutting Medicare and Social Security is simply legislative strategy to Cantor, presumably because he feels that they merit no assistance if they didn't insure themselves in advance.