A recent Dana Summers political cartoon in the South Florida Sun Sentinel and other Tribune newspapers depicts in its first frame a thoughtful-looking Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama saying, “In light of the recent shootings, we need to think about guns and ask ourselves the obvious question.”
Then, in the punchline frame, Clinton and Obama, both grinning now, say, “How can we politicize this?”
It’s an intellectually lazy cartoon that does nothing more than repeat the NRA-approved response when any politician dares to notice the massacres taking place across America. When any elected official or advocacy group tries to offer gun laws that might reduce the death toll – and cites the carnage du jour – they are accused of politicizing the deaths.
The accusation implies that politicians such as Clinton and Obama don’t really care about the victims, which is a lie. And it implies that politicizing the deaths cheapens them. In fact, what cheapens the tragic deaths is ignoring them, blaming the victims (for not having guns to shoot back) and, most of all, working to perpetuate the gun culture that costs so many lives.
Plus, as is obvious to all, the NRA and its vast stable of kowtowing politicians also politicize the deaths.
But let’s take a step back and ask, is it wrong and unusual to politicize death?
Of course not. Look at almost any aspect of death – particularly violent or sudden death – and related political activity surrounds it.
You could say that, in Judeo-Christian tradition, God was the first entity to politicize death. A prohibition against homicide is included in the 10 laws He handed down to Moses.
Today, the death penalty is heavily politicized. Should we do it? When should we do it? How should we do it? Are we doing it fairly? It’s an issue in elections and in judicial appointments.
Here’s another example: Death, a major byproduct of war, is heavily politicized. Different politicians have different answers to questions about risking American lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Not too long ago, a key question was whether withdrawing troops from Iraq would mean that U.S. troops killed there had died in vain. That was a blatant politicization of those deaths. “Boots on the ground” – and therefore deaths on the ground – in Syria and Iraq already are an issue in the 2016 presidential and congressional races.
Terrorism is another arena in which death is politicized. Who has protected us from terrorist deaths and who hasn’t?
Death and disease are at the center of the debate over health care in Florida and in America. Remember, in the attacks on Obamacare, the accusations about death panels? When proponents of expanding Medicaid point out that it would save lives, they are politicizing death. But so are those who turn a blind eye to the deaths that could have been prevented. Not worth the cost, is their political calculation.
Death is a topic of concern to us all, including the emerging public policy issue of doctor-assisted death. Not only is death a proper topic for politicians and politics, it is a traditional topic for politicians and politics. Death and its prevention are appropriate motivators for political action. Why would we want our politicians to ignore a serious and persistent cause of unnatural death? And that’s what guns are.
So I have no problem with politicizing death. And I favor politicians who work to find ways to reduce death, not perpetuate it.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida.