Op-ed: For crisis’ sake

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, January 16, 2016 5:57pm
  • Opinion

In the immortal words of Rahm Emanuel, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” Of course, he’s moved on from Washington power broker to broken mayor of Chicago, where he’s becoming a walking, talking crisis himself. He’s fighting for his survival in the midst of a police controversy that even by Chicago standards has become a scandal. The difference between the murderous cop abuse this time and that of generations past is the video that makes it impossible to sweep under the rug, like they’ve always done. But still, the advice to never miss an opportunity to kick your opponents when they’re down, no matter what the consequences, is sage wisdom for any politician.

Of course, first you must have a crisis. Otherwise, you look pretty foolish if you’re screaming bloody murder. Case in point, the Iranian takeover of 10 sailors on those two ships that had lost their way in the Persian Gulf and beached on the Iran’s Farsi Island. Even though it was obvious early on that it was an accidental incursion and Tehran’s leaders knew that, there was an overnight lag time before the crews could be released. That was enough time for the usual suspect Republicans to pounce.

John McCain, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee and who always can be expected to erupt in a hard line of thunder, criticized President Barack Obama for not mentioning the situation during his State of the Union address. That’s when some delicate diplomacy was going on (is diplomacy ever anything but delicate?), and POTUS probably didn’t want to, uh, rock the boat. Besides, the president was otherwise focused on delivering his “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” speech.

Is that too sarcastic? His message about the country was largely glow, not the gloom that dominates the campaign rhetoric from the other side

“There will be voices,” he declared, “urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.”

Speaking of the Republican candidates, they had another of their “Be Very Worried, Be Hateful” debates. Ben Carson was the most apocalyptic of all, warning of nuclear attack: “They explode the bomb, we have an electromagnetic pulse,” he warned “They hit us with a cyberattack simultaneously and dirty bombs. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point?”

As for the non-chaos over the sailors, they were back from their overnight. When captured, they had been taped briefly on their knees with their hands on their heads while Iranian sailors searched their boat. The video was probably released to please the country’s hard-liners. Ted Cruz was quick to identify himself as a hard-liner: “Any nation that captures our fighting men and women will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.”

Cruz has got his own problems. He insists that the law is settled and that he’s qualified to run for president, even though he was born in Canada. True, his mother was American, but is that enough to meet the Constitution’s natural-born-citizen standard? There’s a genuine legal debate about that. Many experts don’t think it’s settled at all. It’s fair to say that Democrats are chortling about his dilemma, given all the grief Obama got from the “Birthers” even after he showed conclusively he was born in Hawaii. Donald Trump was one of those sleazy leading voices, although in a show of consistency, he’s now raising doubts about Ted Cruz. Still, let’s be fair: Has anyone heard Cruz end a sentence with “eh?” I don’t think so.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the campaign silly season is well underway. Do not worry. No one will let a crisis go to waste — even an imagined one, though one could argue our absurdly dismal political choice is the real crisis.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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