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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas

The ‘Politicizing Flint’ Canard

February 26, 2016

“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 have much of anything to say about the crisis. 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 Follow her on Twitter here.

February 25, 2016 · Filed under Susan J. Demas

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anagnorisis // Feb 26, 2016 at 8:45 am

    This evaluation seems to be point-on as this imbroglio unfolds leaving Turin-like burn spots replicated throughout the folds, Gov. Snyder’s PR firm having indeed taken the low road of offense in lieu of defense. It’s the same old common story. Of course the accused just want it all to go away, don’t look back, but it’s too late for that. Accountability is the code word. The oddest particulate is the inversion of doing the wrong thing and claiming it to be the right thing. This sort of cognitive dissonance startles the ethical and moral proclivities of mankind as dystopian Erewhon in the “perfect image of a priest” steps forth under the spotlight to receive its award.

  • 2 Steve Horton // Feb 27, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    The effort by Gov. Snyder and his PR firm to widen the circle of culpability to include the EPA & the Flint Water Dept. seemed to be getting some traction, in part with the help of the GOP-led Congressional investigation that centered on the EPA; however, the most recent emails (those pesky time bombs that keep exploding), indicate that administration officials were suggesting Flint should re-hook to the Detroit system a year ago, that they knew about the Legionnaire’s disease connection, and that the former chief-of-staff was advocating a need to address the concerns of Flint citizens. The combination of reports has pushed the blame back onto the governor’s lap. And, understanding that, he’s, once again apologized, explaining that “we (someone) should have connected the dots sooner.”
    I agree that politicians politicizing this situation is instinctual, part of their DNA. In a way it’s a red herring that diverts our attention to finding solutions.
    While part of the root cause might well be that the Republicans have seen urban centers as bastions of Democratic malfeasance, an judgement that has allowed them to take a hands-of approach and justified their decisions when it comes to budgeting money or creating urban policy (and prompted a reflex to lecture and scold), I feel the Michigan Democrats have missed the boat.
    Here was a rare opportunity where the legislative Republicans, seeing what had happened and wanting “to help these poor people”, were willing to spend money and an enact policies that would assist the city. They were possibly open to a different perspective.
    A spirit of cooperation, a common cause, might have resulted in some rare bi-partisanship; a co-operative approach that would lay a blueprint for solving Flint’s problems on a longer-term basis and might (cross our fingers) spill over to a viable and mutually-agreeable plan to rescue the Detroit Public Schools and put them back onto solid ground.
    But launching petitions to recall Gov. Snyder, which would has no substantive purpose nor would it change the political equation in Lansing, and continuously shaking the angry fist (albeit understandable when coming from Flint residents) allows the legislative majority to retreat from this initial empathy, circle the partisan wagons, and revert back to the easy convenience of seeing this as a Republican vs. Democrat, Liberal vs. Conservation issue rather than Michiganders rallying to help their neighbors in distress.
    The citizens of Flint and the students and their parents in Detroit need for us to be building bridges, not maintaining the walls.

  • 3 John Q. Public // Feb 29, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    Three comments?! With coherent thoughts, four- and five-syllable words, and nary a mention of Republi-cons or libtards?

    Susan, I’ve a feeling we’re not writing for Advance Publications anymore.



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