“I don’t know…I think we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on his and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor — that’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political?”
—-Fox News anchor Shep Smith last week, responding to critics of the Pope’s visit to the U.S. and his message, as it was being celebrated by Democrats, Catholics, intellectually dishonest progressives, and, apparently, naive news anchors.
The short answer to Smith’s question is, “Of course it’s political. All of those issues are political.” I would also add, “How can you report political news and not understand that they are political?”
Now I’m going to tick them off:
….”Caring for the marginalized and the poor” requires time, money and personnel, as well as planning and efficiency. All of those in turn require re-allocating resources away from other needs and activities, including important ones that allow people to avoid poverty and marginalization. A society that makes cariung for the non-productive members of society its first priority becomes non-productive itself. So where does “caring for the marginalized and the poor” fit on the priority list? What is the definition of “the marginalized and the poor”? The Pope doesn’t have to define them, but to seriously create policy that accomplishes the goal of “caring for” them—which also requires a definition—is a political task.
….”Advancing economic opportunity for all.” Advancing economic opportunity for all means making decisions about what policies accomplish that goal. The United States of America has had centuries of success by embracing an economic system, capitalism, and its governance sibling, democracy, that rely heavily on personal initiative and responsibility. The Pope does not like capitalism, which means advancing opportunity of all in his view means parceling out opportunities by law and edict. How should this be done? Can it be done fairly? When one individual seizing (or being handed) an opportunity takes an opportunity for another, how do we advance opportunity for all, or is it just a comforting impossibility. If it is, how much time and effort should be devoted to the futile pursuit of it? These are all decisions that can not be uncoupled with the objective, and those decisions are inevitably political ones.
….”Serving as good stewards of the environment.” Does phrasing a problem so vaguely as to make it functionally useless remove the problem from the political? Defining “good stewards” requires a consensus, or more likely a compromise, regarding what “good” and “environment” means. Achieving these is a political challenge.
….“Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally.” As I tick these off, I’m getting ticked off. Is religious freedom advanced by allowing Kim Davis to single-handedly veto the law of the land with the claim that doing her job infringes on her religious freedom? Does protecting religious minorities mean opposing radical and extreme sects that want to destroy them? Does the Iran deal protect Israel, or cynically give the illusion of protection to provide political cover for those unwilling to face reality? If protecting religious minorities means fighting a world war, isn’t that a political problem? What is a religion anyway? If religions are just competing sources of authority with governments themselves, potentially interfering with policy deliberations—like, say, the Pope—how wise is it for governments to actively encourage them? How can anyone honestly deny that this goal is nothing but a morass of political controversies?
….”Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally.” I’m past ticked off now and on the brink of descending into exasperated sarcasm. How many immigrants are we supposed to “welcome”? Is the cost of providing instant financial assistance part of that welcome, and is the nation permitted to decide what a reasonable cost is? Are there any limits to how many immigrants we should “welcome”? Since legal immigrants are welcomed by definition, I presume Smith also means illegal immigrants. What does it mean to a nation of laws that law-breakers are “welcomed”? Should we welcome criminals who are illegal immigrants? Wait: integrating immigrants isn’t a political issue? What does integrating mean? Does it mean accepting American ideals and principles, becoming part of the culture, and perhaps learning to speak the damn language so I don’t have to ask clerks and other service employees to repeat themselves slowly because they are incomprehensible, or repeat myself because they haven’t bothered to learn how to communicate in their chosen country? What if all those millions of immigrants we welcome don’t want to “integrate”? Hey, Shep, ask Western Europe how well that “integration” is going with Muslims. Better yet, ask the staff of Charlie Hebdo. “Integrating” implies action, and if the government requires proactive integration of those who don’t want to integrate, but want to live in a nation while rejecting the values of that nation and refusing to associate with the residents of that nation with different beliefs, what’s the proper response? Balance, you say? Determining policy balance, balance of justice, balance of interests, balance of power and rights is the essence of politics.
Verdict: Smith’s statement was fatuous, silly, and misinformed any deluded viewers who are inclined to think that news anchors are smart. Naturally, it was hailed as courageous by those who regard Fox News as the Great Satan. Vox was particularly shameless. This is supposed to be a sophisticated political analysis site, and yet it doesn’t have the integrity to resist stooping to the obvious dishonesty of a sentence like “So we now live in a world where even helping the poor is considered unforgivably political.” Note the deceitful “unforgivably.” Smith said those issues weren’t political, not that they were forgiveably political. It also ducks the main point: the Pope has no standing to make political arguments to the United States government.
Shep Smith deserves credit for being independent and provocative from his lofty news perch, and proving that his network is not populated by ideological clones, like, for example, MSNBC. Still, nonsense is nonsense, and it is difficult for me to trust the news judgment of someone who covers politics and doesn’t know what “political” means.