The Idiotic Politicization of the Term “Politicization”*

We have got to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.

— Grover Norquist, yesterday

I agree.  We also shouldn’t, say, take tragedies like the hijacking of four commercial planes and deliberately crashing them into huge buildings with large numbers of people inside them, and use them for political purposes.  Or take the sudden, near-complete collapse of the banking system and use it for political purposes.  Or take a steep economic downturn and resultant high unemployment rate, and use these for political purposes.  Or take the large federal fiscal deficit and debt, and use those for political purposes.

We should, however, address the problems that these and other occurrences and facts notify us about or highlight.  And when, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration and Congress, with bipartisan participation and support, enacted sweeping legislation to try to address our vulnerability to terrorist attacks, neither Bush nor the congressional supporters of the legislation was politicizing 9/11.  That is, they were not using that terrorist attack to try to push through legislation whose actual purpose was something other than its advertised purpose.  Which is what the term “politicization” means.  

This is apart from whether you (or I) think that legislation, or any other legislation, is wise or is, instead, say, excessive and harmful in important respects (as many people, I among them, thought, and think, much of the post-9/11 legislation is).   The officeholders, including Bush, who pushed for the legislation did so for the purpose they said: to reduce our vulnerability to terrorists, not to achieve some unrelated political or ideological goal.  

Bush did soon unabashedly politicize 9/11, most glaringly by encouraging the false belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 in order to garner public support for the invasion of Iraq, but also in the non-security-related domestic arena.  But at least the former was national-security related (or so it was claimed), and the latter was not overt.

Similarly, with the TARP legislation, its stated purpose was its actual purpose, which was to save the financial system from near-total collapse, and it was supported not just by the Republican president but, in Congress, by many members of each party.  But this also was true of the stimulus law enacted in early 2009 and the Dodd-Frank law, both of these supported almost exclusively by Democrats.  Just as it was true of the New Deal legislation, such as the Securities Exchange Act and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, whose stated and actual purpose was to address the causes of the financial collapse, and the Works Progress Act and other classic Keynesian New Deal laws, whose stated and real goal was to alleviate some of the effects of the downturn and spur growth of the economy.  

Grover Norquist, of course, of all people, well knows the difference between using a pretext for pushing and enacting legislation for an unrelated purpose, and, instead, pushing legislation whose stated and actual purposes are the same.  He has led a decades-long campaign of deceit founded upon the false claim that the call for federal reductions in spending is an attempt to eliminate the federal debt–a purpose obviously incompatible with Norquist’s primary goal of eliminating income taxes on the wealthy and corporations.  Unless, of course, his companion goal also is achieved: eliminating the social safety net and most federal agencies, such as the EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and (to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney) what have you.

What have we, of course, would be a country and society that most Americans would find repugnant, and a substantial majority of the public now sees that.  What have we, also, is a profoundly dishonest political Svengali who, after decades of substantial but not complete success in achieving his aims, is finally witnessing his stranglehold on American politics and government pried loose, leaving him at loose ends and gasping for that final breath.

The problem with that final, gasping breath is that it’s too obviously ridiculous. There probably just aren’t very many people, even among gun-rights zealots, who think Obama and the Democrats are trying to enact laws prohibiting the sale to the public of military-style assault rifles and huge ammunition clips in order to achieve anti-global-warming policy regulations, or something. Most people, even, I suspect, most NRA members, do understand that there is a connection between mass-shooting rampages and the issue of gun-control policy, even if they disagree about the utility of gun-control laws. That’s because they recognize that mass-shooting rampages do actually have something to do with guns.

*This post has been edited slightly since its publication.