The following column appeared in Dome Magazine.
“What I would say is: Politicizing the issue doesn’t help matters. Let’s focus in on the solution and how to deal with the damage that was done and help the citizens of Flint and make Flint a stronger community.” – Gov. Rick Snyder in response to criticism from Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Detroit News, Jan. 19
The Flint water crisis is, first and foremost, about people. Young children are most susceptible to lead poisoning, so the devastating reality is that they’re facing a lifetime of health issues. And we don’t know how many people have been harmed, which is horrifying, in and of itself.
Reasonable people don’t dispute these facts.
But there’s been plenty to fight about –– how quickly to remove pipes, how to find the money and, of course, who to blame. This is how politics works. Anyone who thought the crisis wouldn’t be debated in the political arena is hopelessly naïve.
GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has taken a series of body blows. There’s no doubt that decisions and failures from his appointed emergency managers, Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services all played key roles in the crisis. And despite his stubborn insistence that he didn’t know Flint’s water was poisoned until October 2015, questions remain.
Snyder and Republicans have valiantly tried to blame the Environmental Protection Agency, which, not coincidentally, is part of a Democratic presidential administration. Some have made the case, particularly in conservative media, that local Flint officials messed everything up (because you know how well Democrats run cities, wink). This argument only plays well with those who aren’t aware of how Michigan’s EM law works (and are predisposed to blame Democrats for everything).
Stories also keep breaking that undercut the GOP narrative, like the state carting in bottled water last year for its workers, but insisting to residents that their tap water was fine. We’ve also learned that state officials raised concerns last spring about a link between the water and Legionnaire’s disease.
But Republicans have made one interesting political play, determining that the best defense is a good offense. Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Michigan GOP Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel and assorted other Republicans have all been banging the drum for the last month that Democrats are “politicizing” the crisis.
It’s a bold move, albeit somewhat nauseating, given how long Snyder’s administration failed to act. But, perhaps it’s politically necessary. It is pretty damning when you have a prominent former Snyder aide like Dennis Schornack declaring to the Detroit Free Press that “the people of Flint got stuck on the losing end of decisions driven by spreadsheets instead of water quality and public health.”
So how are Democrats politicizing the crisis? The GOP’s No. 1 target is Hillary Clinton, and for good reason. The Democratic presidential frontrunner has visited Flint, as has her daughter, Chelsea, and has repeatedly raised the water crisis in nationally televised debates. Clinton has called it a “civil rights issue,” adding that “we would be outraged if this happened to white kids, and we should be outraged that it’s happening right now to black kids.”
Snyder’s pointed response was that “politicizing the issue doesn’t help matters.” McDaniel echoed this point, sniffing that “only when [Clinton] was showing a 30-point deficit in New Hampshire did she make her first visit to Flint.” Naturally, McDaniel hasn’t expressed outrage that GOP presidential candidates have yet to find their way to the city –– or that Ted Cruz had been holding up a Flint aide bill in Congress. But that’s not her job, of course.
Anytime anyone claims politicians are “politicizing” something or “grandstanding,” I have to stifle a yawn. That’s what they do. It’s like pretending to be affronted by a viper biting its prey.
We expect politicians to talk about important issues of the day. They’re going to do so in ways that make themselves look good and help their campaigns. And of course, one person’s grandstanding is another’s passionate vision –– it all depends on what side of the political fence you’re on. Clinton is no different than any other politician. Neither is Snyder.
And if “grandstanding” by anyone –– Clinton, Snyder, Cher, Michael Moore, you name it –– brings more donations to Flint, all the better. You don’t have to agree with any of them. It’s fine if they make your stomach churn. But like it or not, celebrities and politicians command attention and can bring important issues to light.
The people of Flint have suffered far too long. They deserve any help, for whatever reason, that comes their way.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.