Oliver Willis

What Conservatives Mean When They Complain About “Politicizing” An Issue

After the racist terrorist attack in Charleston, conservatives are once again on the warpath, complaining that liberals are “politicizing” the issue.

What, exactly do they mean?

Conservatives object strenously to liberals bringing up issues like easy access to guns or systemic racism in the context of the shootings. This happens for two reasons.

One: bringing up policy concerns when a news event is fresh in people’s minds is more likely to prompt action than if you brought up the problem out of the blue. The right does not want any actual action to occur on these and other issues, so tone policing the timing is a key weapon in their arsenal. Of course, if you wait to bring up systemic racism or easy access to guns a few weeks from now, conservatives will then complain, “why are you bringing this up now?”

Two: the right believes that any sort of solution to a problem, within the boundaries of things they like, is politicizing an issue. For the ongoing problems we have as a society with gun violence, this means anything that would reduce the supply of guns on the street. Simply hinting at this, making an reference to the problem of guns in America – a quantifiable fact – is in the “politicization” box, automatically.

I’ll get into this in greater detail at a later date, but it is in this context that Martin Luther King Jr. is often invoked. Conservatives love to invoke Dr. King’s name nearly as often as they like to say “Reagan.”

In their eyes, Dr. King was not political. They really do believe that when King spoke, it was outside the realm of politics, but was simply a message about societal norms and beliefs.

The reality of course, was that Dr. King was fiercely political. He did not believe in protest for the sake of protest or as we tend to call it today, “raising awareness.” King’s protests – and protests from groups like the NAACP and SNCC among others – were almost always tied into changing laws and policies at the local, state, and national level. Arguably the biggest achievement of King’s life was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which was immensely about voting access, by the way), not making black or white people feel good about themselves and racial harmony, but rather the production of a law via the political factory we know as congress.

If you’re making things “political” in the wake of a tragedy, in other words proposing a clear and concrete step that can be made to address the problem, you’re following in the footsteps of the giants who walked before us on the path of righteousness.

So for the sake of our collective well-being, disregard the hurt feelings of conservatives and make it “political” as hell.