Exploiting Tragedy?

Today New York Times columnist Frank Bruni complained that various pundits have “exploited” last night’s terrorist attacks in Paris by relating them to issues like gun control and immigration. Bruni writes: “On Saturday morning I read that Paris was going to be good for Republicans. I read that Paris was going to be good for Democrats.” But every commentator he complains about is a conservative (if you assume Judith Miller is relatively conservative for a journalist).

Ann Coulter, Bruni laments, tweeted a pro-gun message within four hours after the attacks, as did Newt Gingrich some time later. Miller contrasted the Paris attacks with the childish grievances of students at schools like Missouri and Yale. And Bruni criticized our friend Roger Simon for this column at PJ Media. Bruni wrote:

What does Paris have to do with climate change?

Well, apparently President Obama’s justly profound concern about rising temperatures is proof of his inadequate attention to terrorism and an indictment of his ability to do triage overall.

Or so I gather from a column written by Roger L. Simon for PJ Media. Simon characterized Obama as “a ludicrous man who thinks the world’s greatest problem is climate change in the face of Islamic terror.”

Does battling the latter prohibit battling the former?

Simon also mentioned that Obama had once referred to the Islamic State as “the JV team” and had sought to scale down American military commitments abroad. While I question the usefulness of bashing Obama within 24 hours of the Paris attacks, I acknowledge that his past and present assessments of the Islamic State and his readiness (or not) to use American might are fair points of debate in the context of Paris and how we respond to it.

This is part of what Bruni denounces as “the automatic, indiscriminate politicization of tragedy.” And yet, as Bruni grudgingly admits, Roger’s analysis was not indiscriminate at all. Rather, his subject was the war against Islamic terrorism. Roger lamented the fact that the West lacks effective leadership, along the lines of Churchill or Roosevelt, and questioned whether the current presidential front-runners for their parties’ nominations, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are likely to provide it. Roger’s observations flowed directly and logically from the terrorism in Paris.

And Roger’s point was not that ISIS’s attacks have something to do with climate change, but rather that President Obama’s priorities are out of whack. Bruni asks, “Does battling [climate change] prohibit battling [terrorism]?” Not in principle, no. But Roger’s point is not hard to grasp. Obama, who thinks our biggest problem is carbon dioxide, underestimates the danger of Islamic terror. The sentence immediately following the one Bruni quotes makes the point explicit:

This is the same man who oversaw, indeed instigated, a large-scale American démarche for the first time since World War II.

In attacking Roger, Bruni is being deliberately obtuse.

But what about his broader point, that commentators who draw lessons from ISIS’s acts of terrorism–and draw them promptly, which is part of his complaint–are “politicizing” and “exploiting” those attacks? That complaint brings to mind President Obama’s statement following shootings at a community college in Oregon. Speaking just hours after the shootings, Obama called for unspecified gun control measures. He said:

And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize.

Did Bruni attack President Obama for politicizing the Oregon shootings? Or has he criticized any of the many other liberals who have used all such events to call for gun control, often before the bodies are buried? Not that I’ve noticed. Bruni’s ire seems to be mostly a matter of whose ox is being gored.

We are a democracy, and when disasters happen–man-made or otherwise–it is entirely appropriate to debate the implications they may have for public policy. This sort of “politicizing” is natural and right, as long as the connection drawn is a reasonable one, as it was in all of the instances that Bruni complained of. On the other hand, in my view, politicizing disasters and tragedies is blameworthy when the connections drawn by pundits or politicians are not reasonable or truthful.

Obama’s use of the Oregon shootings is a good example of improper politicization, because the Oregon shootings could not have been prevented by any of the measures that Obama or Congressional Democrats have proposed. (That is the case with respect to all, or nearly all, such incidents.) That being the case, Obama’s invocation of the Oregon murders was mere demagoguery. Another good example is the misuse by liberals of storms, hurricanes, droughts, etc., as evidence of anthropogenic global warming, when such claims fly in the face of all scientific knowledge.

To the extent that Mr. Bruni is agitated about the timing of the commentary he read last night, I would suggest that he avoid such discomfort (“I felt sick”) in the future by staying off Twitter, and the internet in general, for a while.