On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid snorted that Hurricane Katrina was “nothing” compared to Super Storm Sandy. “The people of New Orleans and that area, they were hurt but nothing in comparison to what happened to the people in New York and New Jersey,” Reid said from the Senate floor. “Almost 1 million people have lost their homes; 1 million people lost their homes. That is homes, that is not people in those homes. So I think it is just unfortunate that we do not have the relief for New York and New Jersey and the rest already. It has to be done. We have to meet the needs of the American people when an act of God occurs.”
Why is this even controversial? It’s right there in the names. Sandy was a “Super Storm.” Katrina was just a “hurricane.” I mean, come on, people.
Unmoved by the rhetorical power of the “Super Storm” designation, the New Orleans Times-Picayune got hung up on the pesky little empirical details:
Sandy devastated some of the nation’s most populated areas, but it didn’t come close to Katrina. Hurricane Katrina, and the flooding that followed when federally built levees failed, killing 1,833 and causing more than $145 billion in damage. Sandy has been blamed for 120 deaths and over $80 billion in damage.
The Times-Picayune was generous enough to mention that Reid was “making the point that the first $60 billion aid package for Hurricane Katrina passed Congress 10 days after the storm hit New Orleans, flooding 80 percent of the city when levees failed. But it was more than two months after Sandy hit heavily populated areas of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut that the House got around Friday to approving a $9.7 billion package, far less than the $60 billion package approved by the Senate and the $83 billion requested by the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”
But that’s not what Reid said. He surrounded his comparison of Katrina and Sandy with complaints about the political situation, but his controversial statement was clearly a comparison of the storms themselves.
Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana minced no words. “Sadly, Harry Reid has again revealed himself to be an idiot, this time gravely insulting Gulf Coast residents,” he said via Twitter.
This led Reid to release a statement claiming he “simply misspoke,” and reminding the people of Louisiana that he’s “worked hard” with their Democrat senator, Mary Landrieu, “to ensure that the people of the Gulf Coast have the resources they need to fully recover.” Reid can’t even issue an apology for a boneheaded statement without coming off as a hyper-partisan jerk.
It remains rather astonishing that anyone would “misspeak” in the way Harry Reid did. It comes from a combination of factors. Reid is a nasty piece of work, so it’s not surprising that he can instinctively deduce the most unpleasant and offensive way to make any given point. There’s also the myopia of current events, with Sandy looming large because it’s the more recent catastrophe, and its political fallout is still raining upon the U.S. Treasury. A lot of energy was invested in politicizing Sandy – it unquestionably played a role in the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, and there’s an ongoing effort to stampede billions in disgraceful pork-barrel spending through Congress in the name of “Sandy relief” – so it’s easy for an overheated partisan like Reid to grow woozy with hyperbole.
And maybe there’s a dash of New York – Washington – L.A. chauvinism, as Katrina hit faraway New Orleans, perched upon the southern shoreline of flyover country, while Sandy directly affected the headquarters of Big News Media. None of that is any excuse for dismissing the victims of any natural disaster, as if their suffering is “nothing” compared to somebody else’s travails. But fortunately, Harry Reid has the magic “D” after his name, so it won’t matter much to his career. Just imagine what would happen to a prominent Republican who casually dismissed the suffering of Hurricane Katrina’s victims!