So what's in it for me?--making political hay out of disaster
There's a world of difference between skepticism and cynicism. Skeptics doubt and question in an attempt to get at the truth. Cynics doubt because they think that, by definition, every player has bad (or at least selfish) motives.
What happens when journalists are cynics rather than skeptics? One result is that every event and every action is rated and spun as though its sole purpose is either to enhance or detract from a political party or a politician. It is assumed that whatever stands politicians may take, they are always based only on self-interest rather than even a consideration of such old-fashioned and outdated virtues as principle.
A recent New Republic features an article by Ryan Lizza that is an example of this noxious genre. Lizza manages to deal with two of the most dreadful events of recent years--9/11 and Hurricane Katrina--and evaluates them only in terms of which political party is helped/hurt by each disaster, and how both parties are using them to "position" themselves into power.
I believe that Lizza may be one of the New Republic's political writers, and if so it would be natural for him to focus on the political aspects of the disaster, I suppose. But there still seems to me to be something unusually cynical in what he has written here--dealing with 9/11 and Katrina as though they were solely opportunities for politicians to score points.
Lizza writes that the Democrats can gain from the Katrina disaster by promoting themselves as people who handle humanitarian crises properly. He then compares that to the political advantage the Republicans received post-9/11 when they were perceived as the party that could best handle a security crisis.
I don't recall any of the newspapers of my youth ever taking a Katrina-like tragedy or an attack and analyzing either of them in terms of how they affected the rise and fall of each party, and how each party was deciding to use the disaster/attack to its political advantage. It seems to be something that has cropped up in the last few decades only. When did we become so strategic in our thinking; when did journalists begin to resemble sports commentators, concentrating on ongoing play-by-play analyses of who is going to win the game?
It's been particularly in evidence in the coverage of Katrina, as anyone who's been paying even a particle of attention has no doubt noticed. And it's not that I think politicians don't use events to further their own careers. I just think that the MSM has gotten to the point where this is often the primary story, and everything else is secondary. I am not willing to ascribe to that level of cynicism, and I don't think it does our society any good for the media to constantly take such an intensely cynical point of view.
At any rate, Lizza's arguments in the New Republic article are also marred by some rather large flaws. If the Republicans are perceived as being better able to handle a security crisis, it is because they actually were engaged in handling a major security crisis post-9/11. It is logical to assume that the perception of Republicans as tough on national security was predicated at least in some part on their actual performance in a shaky situation that represented a demanding challenge-- one that many people give them credit for handling at least somewhat well--rather than on mere rhetoric and promises.
But if Democrats were to get credit for handling a humanitarian crisis better than Republicans based on Katrina, wouldn't the Democrats have had to have actually performed better than Republicans during Katrina? Can a perception of better performance simply come from criticizing the performance of others? Somehow I don't think so; I don't think most people are that naive. Merely to say "I could do it better, trust me!" isn't usually enough.
It's easier to get people's attention and trust by actually doing something effectively as opposed to criticizing someone else for not doing it. If there are Democrats who fail to realize this, perhaps it relates to differences (discussed in some previous threads here) between conservatives and liberals as to their relative focus on objects (the real) vs. abstractions (the theoretical). Democrats and liberals, because they often emphasize words over acts and the abstract over the concrete, may tend to think that one thing is just as good as the other--that saying it is just as good as doing it.
But, ordinarily, it is not. It would be much better if Democrats could point to some sort of huge humanitarian crisis that they actually handled well recently.
Oh, you say that there actually was a humanitarian crisis recently in which Democrats were involved? Which one was it?
Well, as it turns out, it was Katrina itself. Both Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin were (drum roll here) Democrats!!!
That Lizza fails to take note of this little fact in his article declaring how Democrats can position themselves, post-Katrina, as the party to turn to in a humanitarian crisis is just--well, it's just strange. He seems to believe that rhetoric can trump reality. I hope he's not correct--because, if he is, we're in even greater trouble than I think.