Politicians never let a good crisis go to waste

In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, the Democrats applied a law that serves them well: "Never let a good crisis go to waste."

So they used the bodies of the dead as leverage for their politics and framed the national debate in terms of gun control rather than terrorism inspired by the radical jihadists of Islamic State.


All that emotion about gun control, much of it sincere and thoughtfully offered, was nevertheless used by party operatives to herd voters for Hillary Clinton. It was about shaping the argument on their terms, about capturing the rage and fear out of Orlando and offering people a simple solution they could reach for.

It doesn't matter if that solution won't work. What matters to political tacticians is defending vulnerable flanks by keeping the issue on safe ground.


The law about never letting a crisis go to waste was offered years ago by a wise Democrat and President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Rahm understands.

And recent days have proved him right once again.

The crisis for all Americans involved the horror of terrorism and the evil of Omar Mateen, the New York son of Afghan immigrants who was inspired by Islamic State to slaughter 49 innocents at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

But the crisis for Democratic politicians was of a different sort. They didn't want to discuss Islamic State or jihad. They offered gun control.

And they had to immediately brand the tragedy to their advantage. So, led by the president and aided by the American media that by and large prays on the altar of big government activism and reviles the Second Amendment, it was done.

Is it cynical to think so? No. It is cynical to insist otherwise. I don't want to drag you away from your safe space, but that's how politics works: Frame the debate so your political assumptions and buzzwords are incorporated into the news narrative and the rest is all gravy.

And so the screaming ensued. It was the guns, they said, the guns, the guns.

It was not what Mateen said clearly by his own hand on his social media accounts, where he said he slaughtered Americans for the glory of Islamic State.


Republicans use similar Pavlovian dark magic. There is little difference between the party tacticians. They are experts in prompting their meat puppets.

Instead of gun control, the Republicans often opt for patriotism and fear of all Islam.

And while Democrats used 49 bodies from Orlando, Republicans used thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They used them to wage war, first on Afghanistan, then in Iraq. Many Democrats were for that Iraq war, too, before they were against it.

Out of a ruined Iraq, the Islamic State was born and so was the Syrian civil war.

As the authors of this, Republicans have paid for it in the collapse of their party. And in part because of their tone-deaf corporatist leadership, the GOP has split into three main camps: those belonging to the neoconservative establishment wing, many of whom lean toward Hillary because they see in her a Valkyrie willing to wage war; the constitutional conservatives; and the Jacksonian middle and working classes, who fight the wars and lose their jobs and are mocked by elites. Now they cleave to the vulgarian nationalist Donald Trump.

The president has his hands in this, too, from his disastrous Libya policy to his pathetic vacillating on that "red line" in the sand of Syria to his abrupt military withdrawal from a ruined Iraq, giving the Islamic State — which he once scoffed at as mere "JV team" — time to breathe and grow.


Mr. Obama and the Democrats recently have been stressing that Islamic State has been weakened and that Mr. Trump and some Republicans exhibit racism by demanding a stop in immigration from Muslim countries.

But CIA Director John Brennan told Congress the efforts to degrade the Islamic State haven't worked as well as we'd hoped, and that the Islamic State is planning to send fighters to infiltrate refugee groups and immigrate to attack the West in guerrilla-style strikes.

He said the Islamic State "has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West."

Reality isn't a slogan to fit on Republican or Democratic bumper stickers.

But it's out there.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His e-mail address is, and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.