Monday, April 02, 2012

Using Tragedy As A Political Weapon

by Simon Maloy/Media Matters

One of the more macabre elements of the conservative response to President Obama's comments on the Trayvon Martin case has been the surge of what-about-ism. After the president gave his statement on Martin (which was primarily one of empathy for the slain boy's parents), the right began combing the obituary pages to find examples of recently killed young Americans and demanding to know why the president weighed in on one Florida teenager's death but not other murders. ("He commented on Martin, but what about...")
The point of the exercise is not to promote awareness of the violence epidemic plaguing the inner cities or the disproportionate number of young African Americans who find themselves victims of violent crimes. It's to use these tragedies as a weapon against the president. served up a particularly gross example of this phenomenon yesterday, highlighting the shooting death of 6-year-old Aliyah Shell in Chicago to attack Obama: "No mention of Aliyah from the president. No public outpouring for a young mother who sat untangling her daughter's hair as shots rang out. Nothing."
They argue that this can be explained -- and I'm not joking here -- by Saul Alinsky:
Why? Why would the president weigh in on this specific case at this specific time?
It's not about wrong or right. It's not about justice. It's not about Trayvon Martin. 
"The despair is there; now it's up to us to go in and rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize them for radical social change."- Saul Alinsky
An interesting quote to consider, from the man who shaped the minds of those who shaped President Obama.
The simple, non-Alinsky answer for why the president weighed in was that the controversy over Martin's death had become a national story and he was specifically asked about it by a reporter. Trying to explain why the Martin killing became a national story while Aliyah Shell's did not would require more time and space than I have here, but it owes largely to the fact that Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, has neither been arrested nor charged. Two Chicago gang members are currently in jail and awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges for Shell's death.
It's also worth noting that while Shell's murder hasn't attracted much national attention, it has had a pronounced effect on Chicago politics. Mayor Rahm Emanuel publicly commented on the young girl's death and in the aftermath "renewed his demand for a citywide gang strategy," per the Chicago Sun-Times. To focus solely on the national coverage is to miss the broader picture.
Salon's Alex Pareene has a sharp run-down of why conservatives are demonstrating some uniquely horrendous behavior with regard to the death of Trayvon Martin, part of which I'll highlight here:
President Obama was careful to limit his comments on the Martin story (which were made in direct response to a question from the press, and not, say, prepared remarks) to a personal message of empathy for Martin's parents and a call for everyone to take the situation and the investigation into it seriously.
It is a simple fact that when the president takes a position on something, anything, roughly 50 percent of the nation then decides to take the opposite opinion. Once Obama spoke out, caring about Martin became a "Democratic" issue, and Republicans felt not just free but obligated to fling all sorts of shit.
That's as concise an explanation as can be made for why would exploit a young girl's death as part of the tired Obama-as-Alinsky smear. The callous irony is, of course, lost on them --  they're using the tragic death of a child to attack a political figure for allegedly using the death of a child for political gain.
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