Crises Are Not Opportunities
A president should try to solve problems, not use them for political gain.

Rahm Emanuel with President Barack Obama


Jim Geraghty

Rahm Emanuel’s one-liner at the dawn of the Obama administration, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” was more prescient than we knew at the time. Perhaps Emanuel was paraphrasing a proverb used in a John F. Kennedy speech in 1959: “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.” (That is not really the case, according to Chinese linguists.) We’re used to thinking of crises as problems to be solved, whereas in the Emanuel (and presumably Obama) mindset, they are opportunities to be exploited. Something terrible has happened; this is the moment to envision this terrible event as a chance to get what I want. Emanuel departed the Obama administration in 2010 to become mayor of Chicago, but we continue to see this attitude in the president’s approach to governing, particularly since Obama’s second term began.

Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown: America has, if not a crisis, a deeply disturbing problem of young men with severe emotional and mental issues lashing out by killing as many people as possible. After Newtown, there was a brief period of genuine public discussion about how to address the problems of these individuals, but the conversation quickly shifted and became dominated by discussion of gun control — even though angry young men can be plenty dangerous even without a gun, as seen when a 20-year-old college student went on a stabbing rampage at the Lone Star Community College in Cypress, Texas; 14 people were injured.

Socially isolated young men and the mentally troubled have always existed, but something has inspired this copycat mentality among the most disturbed: When they begin to find their lives too tough, their answer is to locate the most vulnerable group of people they can find — in a theater, the gun-free zone of a college campus or kindergarten class — and try to wipe out as many of them as possible.

But the discussion about the mental health of the gunmen doesn’t lend itself to their demonization, and the topic is a distraction if your mission is to marginalize the NRA. Week by week, month by month, Obama and his allies increasingly focused on a push for background checks at gun shows.

The shooters at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson, and Newtown didn’t get their firearms at gun shows. Gun shows are entirely irrelevant to the problem of mass shooters, and almost entirely irrelevant to the problem of crimes committed with a gun — new statistics from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that fewer than 1 percent of state-prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offenses obtained the firearms at a gun show.

Instead of actually doing something about any potential mass shooters who are out there, the nation’s capital is tied up in a dispute about a proposal that would have changed absolutely nothing if it had been in effect when the mass shootings in question took place. Judging from how frequently the president’s former campaign apparatus, Organizing for Action, sends out fundraising e-mails about the topic, the political advantage of the irrelevant fight must be too good for Obama to pass up.

Then there’s the issue of immigration. The Great Recession reduced the rate of illegal immigration, but there is general agreement that about 11 million illegal immigrants are living in the United States. Some of these 11 million are good people, who would make good Americans, such as Antonio Diaz Chacon, who in 2011 intervened when, seeing a six-year-old girl being abducted, he chased down the kidnapper and rescued her.

But some of these 11 million mean us harm, or have no sense of loyalty to the country they reside in. One recent example is Azamat Tazhayakov, 19, who illegally reentered the U.S. on an invalid student visa (he was no longer attending the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth) and is charged with hiding evidence from police investigators in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.