It Was Already Political


I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but I put it down less than a month ago, knowing that I would have another opportunity sooner rather than later to take another crack at it.

In the wake of tragedies that spur people to call for action, there is always a chorus shouting in the other direction that tragedies are not to be politicized. And there is some genuine critique hidden in that phrase: there is always a fear that legislation might pass that either doesn’t solve the problem or makes it worse, pushed through in the name of political expediency or some sort of bad faith.

But I’ve seen a growing trend that any argument that people don’t like immediately means that a tragedy has been politicized. This is simply absurd. After all, at its heart, law is simply a matter of how to systematically avoid bad or unfair outcomes, tragedies clearly included.

Bankruptcy law, broadly, exists so that people aren’t consigned to a lifetime of eternal debt. Patent law, broadly, exists so that people who create things aren’t deprived of the benefits of those creations. Procedural law, broadly, exists so that people aren’t deprived of their proper day in court.

Most of the regulatory state exists because we know that there are potential tragedies that can be planned for with a little foresight. Consider the mission of the FDA, or even a newer agency such as the CFPB, which was established in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis to, broadly, protect people from ending up with underwater loans designed to draw people in and drown them in delayed interest payments.

Even criminal law exists because we’ve made the decision as a society to try to minimize malicious conduct and its human cost. (I may disagree with where the balance has been set, but that’s a separate discussion.) Regardless of whether you value criminal law for its deterrent effect, its rehabilitative effect, or its incapacitative effect, we’ve made the decision that a bad actor’s suffering has positive value in avoiding other bad outcomes.

Trying to work on these situations is necessarily political. Preventing large-scale food contamination is necessarily political. Distributing aid to hurricane-torn cities is (as has been demonstrated in the last week) necessarily political. Not that there will be a Dem and a GOP viewpoint on these issues, but that solutions are not going to be created organically. All the donations for Puerto Rico, freely given, are proof of that.

Now, we can have disagreements as to what things count as bad outcomes and how bad those outcomes really are. I know people who, with a straight face, consider the outcome of potentially higher taxes much worse than the outcome of 28 million uninsured (which likely leads to 34,000 people per year that still die in this country as a result of a lack of health insurance). And yet, when those lives are at risk, when 34,000 preventable tragedies are on the line, there is no discussion about politicizing those deaths.

I have suffered tragedies in my life. I state that not to win an argument or end the conversation—indeed, I say this because I know that the vast majority of you reading this have as well. And in many cases, there are probably legislative solutions that might have made that tragedy slightly more avoidable.

One of the last ideas Kelly bounced off of me, while she was going through treatment, was a potential campaign to require skin lotion to be made with an SPF factor. She wanted to know what might be the best way to go about such a campaign; whether it should be a legislative or administrative push, whether it should be a state/local or federal push, etc. I would guess that most people would not see this as the politicization of a tragedy, but rather a heartwarming response to a life cut short by melanoma.

While I have left that aside for too long, I have been vocal in the past year about a potential repeal of the tanning tax, an element that has made it into most GOP healthcare bills so far. My own hometown congressperson, Jim Renacci, made an impassioned and scientifically inaccurate defense of tanning salons during a House committee hearing for the AHCA. Does that feel more politicized to you? I would imagine that regardless of your political affiliation, the answer is yes, at least a little. But why? Is it just because things that are labeled “taxes” are more politically fraught? (I’m not sure, but I haven’t yet heard a good argument otherwise…and regardless, given Kelly’s own commitment to activism, I am certain she’d laugh at the idea that her story shouldn’t be used to agitate for certain policy choices.)

So for people who consider the debates about gun control, particularly on this day, too politicizing, I want to ask: why do you feel that way? Are you broadly okay with the status quo on this issue? Is it simply because you feel like it’s an excuse to take away people’s guns, or something similar? If so, do you consider blanket gun ownership more important than the dent we could make in the tens of thousands of lives cut short each year due to gun violence? Are you…afraid of stating that view directly? Because I hope you can understand that it feels like a transparent dodge.

This issue, along with plenty of other issues, has always been political. That shouldn’t get in the way of our search for solutions.

Unless, of course, you don’t think the situation needs solving. But if that’s your position, own it.

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