“Don’t politicize tragedy” is itself partisan rhetoric

Some lines in our political dialog sound non-partisan, but they only come up in a one-sided way. Once the media habit gets established, those unwritten usage rules are very hard to change.

For years now, liberals have been trying to turn judicial activism back against conservatives. But no matter how many Citizens United or Bush v Gore decisions right-wing judges write, judicial activism only has glue on its left side; it won’t stick to the Right.

We shouldn’t politicize this tragedy is similarly one-sided. It is only said in two situations:

  1. To stop liberals from talking about gun control after a mass shooting.
  2. To stop liberals from talking about worker safety after a mine disaster, factory fire, or some other big industrial accident.

It never limits conservatives, who routinely score political points in the wake of tragedy without even a sense of hypocrisy. The possibility that don’t politicize tragedy could apply to them just doesn’t register.

So Fox News’ Megyn Kelly can guiltlessly respond to the Newtown School shooting by asking a security expert:

I have two kids. Now I suddenly want to see an armed police officer in the school. I mean, I never even thought of that prior to now, but what would that take, to have an armed police officer in every school?

Kelly reaching for a more-guns solution is fine, but imagining fewer guns — as Bob Costas did two weeks before — politicizes tragedy.

In any other situation, major loss of life leads to action. The Patriot Act was signed six weeks after 9-11. I don’t recall anyone saying we shouldn’t politicize the tragedy. And as Chris Hayes observed Saturday,

If yesterday we had found out that the shooter’s name was Abdulmutallab and that he had been attending a mosque in Connecticut, everything about the response would be different.

One difference: No one would be shutting down the Islamophobes for politicizing the tragedy.*

The most predictably outrageous politicization of tragedy always comes from the Religious Right. Who can forget Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming 9-11 on

the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America

Falwell is dead, but his blame-the-secularists game continues. Thursday, when a Fox News anchor suggested to Mike Huckabee that people might ask “How could God let this happen?”, Huckabee responded by denouncing separation of church and state:

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but one day we stand before, you know, a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then we don’t fear that.

So suggesting any limitation to Second Amendment rights politicizes the tragedy, but it’s fine for Huckabee to advocate against our First Amendment right to be free from an establishment of religion.

Huckabee was not alone. Bryan Fischer also started with “Where was God?”and went the same place with it:

Here’s the bottom line: God is not going to go where He’s not wanted. Now we have spent — since 1962, we’re 50 years into this now — we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost.

He then went through a litany First Amendment cases that limit Christian establishment before concluding:

We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us: “Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first.”

I’m sure the Amish parents of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania wonder how exactly they banished God from their schoolhouse before five of their daughters were gunned down in 2006. But apparently Fischer’s God** is subject to the same rule as vampires: Even if He wants to help, He’s stuck on the threshold until somebody invites Him in.

In short, liberals: Don’t be cowed by people who tell you not to politicize a mass shooting or a mine cave-in. The don’t-politicize rule applies only to you. Whenever conservatives can spin a tragedy to their advantage, they will, and the self-appointed umpires who criticize you now will be completely silent.

*The same people who blame Islam for any crime by a guy with a Arab name — they twisted themselves into pretzels denying Christianity’s responsibility for Anders Breivik’s mass murder of liberal children in Norway (even though Breivik styled himself as a defender of Christendom). “No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder,” Bill O’Reilly declared.

If you would laugh at a Muslim who said that about believers in Allah, you should laugh at O’Reilly too.

**In some ways conservative Christians preachers are a special case, because their flocks do ask “Where was God?” and the ministers have no answer. The question points to a hole in their theology: If the Universe were governed by the God they describe (all-powerful, loving, good, and personally involved), these things would not happen. It’s that simple. It’s not a paradox or a mystery, it’s just a contradiction.

They can’t admit that, so they have to deflect blame onto someone else.

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  • moguesmysteries  On December 17, 2012 at 9:37 am


    Gun control now, absolutely I get you I agree with you. Please g-d it happens soon. I live in place (Ireland) where there is strict gun control and these things just don’t happen. As my husband who is Irish often reminds me “You are as well out of that place, love” and most of the time I couldn’t agree with him more.

    But as a person of faith, please realize that you are wrong on this theological point and with all due respect, you don’t seem to have much of an understanding of basic Christian/Catholic theology, which fair enough, if you are not a person of faith why would you.

    G-d does not sin, people do. According to Christian tradition human beings have absolute free will and we obviously often choose to sin (i.e walk away rather than towards the light of Christ). G-d is not in control of human beings, and not therefore all powerful. If G-d were all powerful, there would be no such thing as evil, but unfortunately there is.

  • Mary  On December 17, 2012 at 10:06 am

    With all due respect to moguemysteries. Please read the essay again. You may have misapprehended the point about the ways in which the American right politicices tragedies and uses them to drive their agenda. There exists real hypocrisy and troubling cognitive dissonance in this country which together prohibit meaningful discussions and reasonable solutions.

    • moguesmysteries  On December 17, 2012 at 10:13 am

      Mary, yes, got that point, and agree with it. What else should we do with a great tragedy, but politicize it, change policy and hope to avoid a recurrence. My objection was to the misrepresentation of Christian theology at the end of the piece.

      • James  On December 17, 2012 at 4:57 pm

        Many conservative Christian preachers do claim God is all powerful. If God is all-powerful, then God should be able to stop a shooter from killing children. This is the classic problem of evil.

        The most common resolution to this problem is to say that God allows human freedom, which means humans may make evil choices. It is not an entirely satisfactory answer, especially if you’re a grieving parent.

        By the way, the image of God as all-powerful is not entirely Biblical. The Torah describes a God who can change his/her mind. No where in the New Testament does it explicitly say God is all-powerful (though it may be reasonably deduced).

  • RJ  On December 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    “We shouldn’t politicize this tragedy” is also said in a third situation; after a natural disaster like a hurricane, drought, flood, or wildfire. In these cases it is said to stop liberals from talking about climate change and changing our energy policies. Once again, it is one-sided.

  • JoAnn  On December 17, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Also, I wish someone would say to the religious types who like to point out these mass shootings as evidence of the supposed harm of taking the religion (specifically Christian religion of course) out of schools that most European countries have much less practicing Christians and yet they manage to have much, much less violence. Not to mention other issues we face more in this country, like teen pregnancy. It’s ridiculous. There is nothing that indicates that the lack of religion causes these shootings. If that were the case, why do I look with envy at Europe and Canada, where you can generally send your kid to school without worrying about them getting shot. Or now, if my husband and I decide to have a date night and go to a movie without the kids, what if some jerk decides to shoot up the movie theater and now my kids are orphans? Now, I don’t think about this constantly. I know, intellectually, that the odds of those things happening personally to me are actually very small. But when there are dozens of gun deaths every single day in our country, it is a concern. When you see how easy it is for just about anyone to get their hands on such powerful firearms, how can you not be concerned? And it seems like most of the gun owners of this country think that somehow having a gun makes you invincible, when in reality it puts you and your family more at risk. I am hoping that we are reaching a turning point. We are supposed to be a free country as the gun lovers like to say. Well, what freedom is it if we are afraid to leave our houses for fear of all these gun lovers?


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