Sen. Inhofe cares about his constituents.
Sen. Inhofe rides in on a white horse, shows his constituents he cares.
Shutterstock / val lawless

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) opposed using federal money to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy rebuild their homes, roads, and tattered lives.

That’s because he’s a fiscal grinch who thinks disaster victims should fend for themselves, Lord of the Flies-style. Right? Well, perhaps not.

Residents of Inhofe’s own state are about to receive a bounty of heartfelt help from the federal government in the wake of Monday’s epic tornado, which killed at least 24 people and leveled buildings across five counties.

And Inhofe is good with that. He has adopted the very reasonable position that aid money should flow in from federal coffers to help rebuild Oklahoma’s shattered neighborhoods.

But this is not some watershed moment wherein, seeing his own people mired in tragedy, the senator suddenly comes to value cooperation and collective action. Rather, Inhofe claims the situation is “totally different” from Sandy because his constituents are more trustworthy and less wasteful than those money-grubbing East Coasters.

Inhofe was questioned on MSNBC about his support for federal aid given his past opposition to the Sandy aid bill, which he had described as a slush fund. In his response, Inhofe displayed startling ignorance about the differences between a tornado, which causes highly localized damage, and a hurricane, which can cause havoc across a whole region.

“That [Sandy aid bill] was totally different,” Inhofe told MSNBC. “That was supposed to be in New Jersey; they had things in the Virgin Islands, they were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C. Everyone was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”

Inhofe wasn’t the only Oklahoma lawmaker to oppose the Sandy aid bill; ABC reports that a number of Republicans from the state “may be forced to reckon with their past votes against emergency disaster funding.” From the article:

Oklahoma’s two Republican senators, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, opposed a bill that provided more than $60 billion in emergency aid after Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast. In addition, three members of Oklahoma’s House delegation joined with most Republicans in opposing the legislation.

Nearly all of the lawmakers have pledged that whatever assistance Oklahomans need will be provided, but the devil will be in the details.

Salon’s Joan Walsh weighs in on the apparent Republican hypocrisy:

There’s something so typical about today’s GOP in the way Inhofe can dismiss comparisons between tornado aid and Sandy aid while Coburn grandstands for his long-term demand that new spending, even on disaster relief, must be “offset” by cuts elsewhere. Meanwhile, the notion that a new disaster relief bill should include funding to cope with future disasters isn’t lauded as common sense, it’s derided as pork. Like Inhofe, Coburn objected to the Sandy bill’s including funding for future disaster relief. …

Just as modern conservatism helped create categories of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, we now apparently have deserving and undeserving disasters. When tragedy strikes, most Americans tend to want to pull together, but many Republicans look to pull us apart, placing their own constituents’ needs above everyone else’s.

As far as these lawmakers are concerned, it should be everybody for themselves — except for the voters in their districts. Perhaps the support that the rest of the country provides for Oklahomans in their time of need will help these politicians see things in a new light. But don’t bet on it.