Revealing Reactions

As you might expect, several candidates have issued statements about yesterday’s mass killing at an African-American church. If you read them carefully, they give revealing clues about their thinking, perhaps more than they intended. Look at a couple of samples from each political perspective.

Rick Santorum called it “an assault on our religious liberty.” True, the assault took place in a Christian church, but that doesn’t seem to be its defining characteristic, does it? Is this Santorum’s first thought or just what he thinks his target audience wants to hear? In other words, is this evidence of a blinkered focus or a manipulative mindset?

Rand Paul described it as an act of evil that government cannot solve. That is certainly consistent with his libertarianism, and his disarming frankness. But surely there must be some aspects of such events for which the government could play a helpful hand, if not through heavy-handed regulation at least through persuasion. Effective President’s fully understand the role of The Bully Pulpit.

Hillary Clinton pledged not to “forsake those who have been victimized by gun violence” and “to find answers together.” Note how careful she is to avoid any specifics. Instead she just tries to show empathy. This is apparently her campaign strategy for now. Will this wear well and can she keep it up? My guess is that there won’t be a sudden switch when she gets real. Instead she will edge into concrete statements bit by bit, still maintaining her new motherly persona. If so it will make her seem very tentative and calculating.

Bernie Sanders’ statement focused on the incident as a “reminder of the ugly stain of racism that still taints our nation.” What stands out to me is that Bernie makes no mention of guns, quite the opposite of President Obama’s initial comments. Bernie is beginning to get careful. He is from a state that is probably even more manic about the 2nd Amendment than Texas. A cautious progressive is an oxymoron and won’t wear well.

I believe that several other candidates simply made statements of sympathy for the victims and left it at that. My point is that people unconsciously reveal a lot by what they say, or don’t say, when an important or stressful event occurs. It sometimes takes them off message. And when it doesn’t, even that is revealing to a degree.