Missing the Mark
Terry H. Schwadron
June 29, 2021
There is something particularly frustrating about watching government and our political leaders — from both parties — flailing towards problems without actually hitting the targets.
Of course, sometimes they do so on purpose. That is, they don’t really want to solve the problem at hand, whether immigration, education, climate or guns, and so they just go through the motions to make it look as though they are doing something. We all call that politics as usual, and move on to baseball or music or thinking about what’s for dinner.
But then comes all those serious faces about why a condo building just falls down in Miami, or a bridge just start to break, or crime statistics seeming to go up suddenly, and the politicians sternly remind one another and you and me that they intend to do something about it.
And then comes the inevitable partisan criticism that the leader of the moment just mishandled things horribly. Meanwhile, amidst all the noise, the underlying problem never goes away.
We see it repeatedly, and in instances that should have little to do with partisanship. We are consistent in proposing inadequate responses to real problems because it is too uncomfortable or unsettling to get to the actual issues. We devise the wrong solutions because we are overly concerned with image or even with getting something done, even if it does not address what is wrong.
We are asking the wrong questions.
Just this week
In the past week alone, we saw Vice President Kamala Harris go to El Paso to fulfill a perceived obligation to witness what we all already know, that there are significant cracks in border security to those determined enough to trek a thousand miles for a better life for their children. At the end of the day, though, Harris just waved at the issues, reminded us that professional border police and Homeland Security director Alejandro Mayoras are in place to coordinate a proper response, while she is supposed to tilt at international windmills to get to the root causes.
There’s nothing really wrong with what she said or did — though even Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Tex,, said she went to the wrong border place to really take measure — except that today, the issues are unchanged,
Likewise, rising crime figures prompted President Joe Biden to release more coronavirus-labeled aid to selected local police departments and to order checks on “ghost” guns, but none of that is actually going to reduce crimes arising from robberies and drugs, homicides and shootings to which the police necessarily arrive after the fact, or homelessness and a lack of mental illness services which likely more properly describe what people are reporting as crime rises.
Banning “Critical Race Theory” thinking, as if there is a singular definition that matters, in several Republican-controlled states, is not improving problems facing public education, and simply serves as a banner for a flavor of one institutionalized viewpoint to keep White America from feeling responsible for what has happened to Black America. It’s not only ineffective, it is infuriating, and does not mesh at all with the view from the same folks to maintain Confederate statues in place as reminders of some kind of weird Good Times past.
Finding the Problem
Even as engineers are digging, literally, into the debris in Miami, the real issue here seems obvious to anyone taking even a casual look at the long string of huge buildings along the tiny, elongated beachfront that is Miami Beach. It seems nuts that these behemoths are allowed — no, courted — to go up on an environmentally fragile strip that is under constant bombardment by a now rising sea.
Nevertheless, I’m sure that the Florida state government, Republicans in this case, will sagely order reviews of building codes and concrete specification that will take years to change, allowing lucrative property development to continue at record pace. A proposal in South Florida for a 20-foot-high seawall is going through its early paces rather than a halt to development.
There is too much money involved, and there are too many entrenched interests involved for us to ask a more fundamental question.
The public hand-wringing about response to crime statistics is the same. As I have noted, yes, shootings and homicides in various cities are up in percentage terms from a year ago, during the pandemic lockdown, but almost always down from high points over the last decade. The constant references in news reports to spiraling crime is often without context, and useful only as a political hammer.
So over the weekend, Donald Trump could wave percentage increases around as evidence of deterioration in American life under Biden with impunity — and no solution other than putting him back in office, Meanwhile there were reports from his White House team in new books that show he wanted the military to fire indiscriminately at peaceful (or not) crowds protesting after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Biden is not wrong in seeking to better control access to “ghost” or assembled guns, but it has little to do with reducing the kinds of crime that are rising.
The problems of an intelligent immigration policy have withstood decades of attempts to bring logic to an emotional front. So have race, education and health, gender and civil rights.
Unless we want to resolve these issues, we should be prepared to accept bad solutions to problems that we choose to redefine by partisan credit.