OPINION When politics replaces heroes by Salena Zito, National…
PITTSBURGH — Just moments after the press reported there had been no fatalities in the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge, the tragic event instantly turned into a political spectacle.
“Shame on the Republican lawmakers who didn’t support the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” tweeted Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. “Pennsylvanian lives are on the line. It’s long past time for the political games to come to an end.”
The tweet was misinformed at best, a lie at worst. The Fern Hollow Bridge was not on the list of projects due to be funded by the new infrastructure bill. But as they say, never let facts get in the way of a political opportunity.
Averted tragedies, ideally, make us feel better about who we are, rather than causing us to reach for the quickest way to divide people. But Wolf opted for the latter in his social media thread. He praised fellow Democrats Joe Biden and Bob Casey, who were both coincidentally in Pittsburgh that day for an event, for supporting the infrastructure bill and then made a scant four-word “first responders arrived quickly” mention for those who deserved the real praise.
If we had better leadership, those “first responders who arrived quickly” would have probably been the only thing Wolf mentioned; he would have spoken with civic pride about the five officers who arrived on the scene in the pitch black, the hiss of a ruptured natural gas line, and the smell that goes with it surrounding them. They did what they were trained to do by sliding down the ice-covered ravine to rescue those who were trapped on the collapsed bridge in their vehicles.
He would have sung the praises of Pittsburgh paramedic Jon Atkinson, who helped first responders who were having trouble getting victims out of the ravine by offering up the bed of his four-wheel-drive pickup truck when the other rescue vehicles could not get out of the steep gully.
Instead, the day became one of politics for politicians. Yet the people I spoke to that day didn’t want to talk politics. The people who used that bridge every day to take their children back and forth to school understandably had different priorities. They must have also been rattled. They may have been spared a terrifying fate only because of a two-hour snow delay.
They had only two things on their mind. They praised the work of the first responders, whose quick actions likely saved lives, and they groused about how the government had once again failed to do what it promised — to keep them safe.
It wasn’t a right thing or a left thing; it was their reality. That 447-foot bridge had carried their family members, friends, and neighbors from one side to the other every day. Now it was in a heap at the bottom of a ravine.