By Corinne Colbert

Athens NEWS Editor

The tornadoes that struck five states last Friday killed dozens and wiped some towns off the map. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear told the Associated Press, “I’ve got towns that are gone, that are just, I mean gone. My dad’s hometown — half of it isn’t standing.”

The humane reaction to such tragedy is sorrow and sympathy. Inevitably, though, some had a different take.

“I have to wonder how many of those unfortunate Kentucky tornado victims on TV would not receive any aid if their political desires were in effect,” read one tweet. “And I wonder how many of those will take the stinking money anyway.”

Twitter denizens blasted Sen. Rand Paul — who has voted against disaster relief for other states — for asking the federal government for help for Kentucky. They were equally disdainful of his constituents.

“IMO, he is a smart politician milking the collective stupidity of low informed citizens of Kentucky. They always vote against their own interests,” was a typical sentiment.

Seems like anytime they hear about problems in rural America, many on the left bring up the “voting against their own interests” trope. Just this weekend, the NEWS received this voicemail about its water infrastructure story:

“If people began to support public policy that in fact gave money to infrastructure, some of these issues would not exist. Many people in the rural part of the county vote Republican. Republicans do not believe in providing any sort of financial support for their citizens….If people continue to vote against their own interests, then whine about the lack of infrastructure, we’ve got a problem. Folks, wake up. It makes absolutely no sense to continue this mindless sort of a pattern of voting and you have no excuse to whine about it say on the subject.”

According to this line of thinking, rural Americans (who are always assumed to be a solid wall of Republicans) deserve what they get because they don’t vote as they “should.”

My blood boils every time.

Nature doesn’t discriminate. California has some of the nation’s most stringent anti-climate change regulations, yet its residents regularly lose their homes — and their lives — to wildfires and mudslides. Representation by an entirely Democratic Congressional delegation wouldn’t have saved Mayfield or Bowling Green or Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Storms are becoming more devastating because of climate change, and Kentucky’s senators oppose measures to mitigate it; one actively denies the phenomenon. Does that mean Kentuckians therefore deserve to lose their homes, jobs and lives? Of course not, and to imply so is inhumane.

And the last time I checked, human rights applied regardless of political party. Access to safe, clean drinking water and working sanitation is a human right recognized by the United Nations, the National Resources Defense Council and numerous other national and international bodies. Rights are no more contingent on one’s political views than they are on race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. To imply otherwise is inherently illiberal and unprogressive.

“Voting against their interests” also reveals blinding ignorance not only of one’s political opponents, but of human nature. Traditional guns-vs.-butter economics assumes that humans are rational actors who always act in their best interests. But few of us who came across a $100 bill on the street would immediately rush to deposit it in the bank or invest it. You might buy groceries, pay the cable bill or get a haircut with it. But chances are you’d splurge at least a bit: going out to eat instead of cooking at home, seeing a movie and buying the big bucket of popcorn, having your hair dyed with the trim.

Voters aren’t rational actors, either. “Since when is a vote a mere economic decision?” asked conservative commentator David French. We tell pollsters that we’re most concerned about the economy and jobs, but all vote our values. Liberals believe that government should help people, so we support candidates who will bolster the social safety net. Liberals tend to believe in legal abortion, marriage equality and gun control, so we vote for like-minded candidates. We vote in our own interests.

Conservatives don’t vote against their interests; they have different interests from you. They believe in the individual right to bear arms, that life begins at conception, that society works best with intact, heterosexual nuclear families. In their view, the social safety net is an incentive for unwed parenthood, deliberate joblessness and individual financial irresponsibility. They vote for like-minded candidates — in their own interests.

Both sides of the partisan divide think their opponents are too stupid to understand what’s at stake in an election. From the left, this attitude is not only patently unconducive to civil discussion, it’s hypocrisy. We’re supposed to be the party of empathy and caring. We reject racism, mysogny and bigotry — yet seem unable to unwilling to see our opponents’ humanity, which is how we overcome racism, mysogyny and bigotry.

We all know that our politics are toxic. We all complain about it. But we can’t clean it up until we stop weighing others’ worth by their political views. Every human being is worthy of love and compassion — and of clean water, a sanitary environment, and help when disaster strikes. Without qualification.

If your first reaction to a crisis is to check the victims’ politics — if the words “voting against their interests” crosses your lips or your keyboard — I recommend some serious soul-searching.

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