The Corner

Politics & Policy

Sure, Go Ahead and Politicize Tragic Events

In response to The Week

In his post below, Jonah ponders whether or when it’s acceptable to “politicize” the response to events like mass shootings or terror attacks. After noting Chuck Schumer’s obvious hypocrisy – attacking Donald Trump for politicizing the Manhattan terror attack while tweeting that Americans should “stand up the NRA” after the Las Vegas shooting – Jonah asks a series of good questions:

But what about conservatives doing exactly what we decry as well? When it’s gun control, we’re all like, “How dare you politicize a tragedy?” This was the White House’s official position in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting. “Now is not the time” etc.

Are we to think that when the blood in the street bolsters the case for even more Extreme Vetting, it’s just fine?

This is an honest question: Is there a meaningful distinction between the two scenarios? Are there some policy questions that are fair in the wake of a terror attack or mass shooting and others that must be held in check pending a respectful mourning period? Or is “propriety for thee, but not for me” the rule now?

I’m just cynical enough to believe that the vast majority of politicians, pundits, and Twitter warriors who demand that we not “politicize” a tragedy are really begging, “Don’t make me talk about my political opinion in an unfavorable environment. Let’s wait until the news cycle passes, and the public moves on.” But perhaps moments when the public is energized and interested are among the best times for politicians to make political arguments. Do it tactfully. Respect the fallen. But make your case. 

I can immediately think of a shining example of a politician who got this exactly right. Here was Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, speaking just after he survived an attempt on his life:

As I wrote at the time, It would be hard to imagine a better response if he’d had days to think, reflect, and draft an op-ed. He knew the subject, he held to his convictions, and he was ready to give an answer. That’s the way to address politics in the midst of tragedy. 

Politicization is far less problematic than stupidity and bad faith. In the fog of war, people jump to conclusions, they ignore bad facts, and sometimes they just say silly or malicious things. We saw this yesterday amidst the multiplicity of conflicting reports. Activists stampeded to familiar positions before they knew the most basic facts about the event. I even saw gun control tweets after a truck attack. 

The bottom line? Rather than saying, “Don’t politicize tragedies,” I’d settle for different rules. Wait for the relevant facts, speak in good faith, and don’t be stupid.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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