Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Carnage in Joplin

I went to college about 70 miles south–southeast of Joplin, Mo.

I didn't spend much time there. I went there a few times, and I knew people who came from there, but I couldn't rightfully claim to have an intimate relationship with the place.

Nevertheless, it is heart–breaking to see what has happened there in recent days. I have needed little more than to see images of the devastation or to hear reports that the twister that ripped through Joplin on Sunday was among the deadliest ever to understand the enormity of it all.

A lot of grim work is being done in southwest Missouri.

Rescuers are finding a barren wasteland in an increasingly futile search for survivors in the debris.

The president will be in town on the one–week anniversary of the tornado, but I honestly wonder if the purpose of his visit is more political than anything else.

No memorial service is planned on Sunday (at least, I am unaware of one) — and even if one is planned, this isn't the outcome of an inherently evil act. The Joplin tornado has left thousands of tragedies in its wake, but this isn't like Tucson or Oklahoma City or Ground Zero. There is no "bad guy" he can promise to bring to justice.

The idea of bringing someone to justice plays into the concept of closure — and it tends to satisfy a biblical need for revenge.

But this was an act of nature. That's what the insurance company said many years ago when a huge tree limb fell on my car, and that's what this was. You can't bring a tornado to justice — even though this one may yet prove to be as deadly as the bomb Timothy McVeigh set off at the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Obama appears to understand this — but he also seems almost eager to score some points from human misfortune. The president who has been criticized frequently for being too aloof, too remote now seems to want to be seen as the new president who feels your pain.

I can almost see the empathetic pictures for the campaign brochures and the footage for the commercials being planned and shot.

Is that a wee bit too cynical? Perhaps. But, tell me, what's he gonna do? There ain't much, and he knows it.

"All we can do," he admitted, "is let them know that all of America cares deeply about them and that we are going to do absolutely everything we can to make sure that they recover."

That's fine — but can't he do that in Washington?

Can't he declare southwest Missouri a federal disaster area without the trappings of a photo opp?

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