Glendon Y. McCreary: Discussing a tragedy

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Glendon Y. McCreary: Discussing a tragedy

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By: Glendon Y. McCreary
Posted: 4/24/07

It can be difficult to cover politics in the aftermath of a nationally felt tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech last week. And as we all remember the victims and reflect on the events that transpired, we are also on high alert to make sure we don't unduly "politicize" anything, because nobody wants to be seen as politically benefiting from someone else's tragedy.

As a result, we often temper any discussions we have on the issues related to such incidents. Case in point, despite the fact that his unbelievably easy access to guns was one of the primary reasons the mentally unstable gunman, Cho Seung-hui, had the means to go on this rampage, our politicians all seem to be scrambling to avoid the issue of gun control.

Unfortunately, we seem to be becoming so wary of courting sensitive topics in these situations that we end up not having the thorough debates we need to have in order to prevent a recurrence. As sad as it may be, it often takes a tragedy to grab our attention and put a much-needed spotlight on a particular issue.

But that attention is fleeting.

Remember Hurricane Katrina? As New Orleans was inundated with water and many thousands of impoverished residents languished in third-world conditions at the Superdome, politicians from Bill Clinton to George Bush told us that now was not the time to blame anybody or anything, and worked to assure us that there would "be a time" for that.

We were told that eventually, Hurricane Katrina would open up a dialogue about race and poverty in America that had been long overdue. But that dialogue never materialized, because as time passed our attention focused on more mundane matters. As a result, the lofty goals of readdressing these issues have gone largely unfulfilled. Perhaps, had we gotten some answers sooner, we might have made more progress in rectifying mistakes made.

Thus, an event even on the scale of Hurricane Katrina can manage to slip from our collective radar into the abyss that is yesterday's news, as the relevant issues are put on the back burner.

But it is more complicated than a matter of trivial issues trumping relevant ones. Sometimes it's a legitimate and important story that draws our limited attention spans away from another important issue.

Don Imus' firing, overkill or not, over racist and sexist remarks was welcomed by members of the African American community as a chance to have a broader discussion about race relations and tolerance in America. But then Cho Seung-hui went on a rampage, and suddenly nobody is talking about race relations and Imus anymore.

All of this highlights the simple fact that we do not necessarily have the luxury of time when discussing how to best respond to an important news event. In the age of youtube.com, blogs and 24-hour cable news, we simply don't have time to wait for a politically calm moment to discuss important and controversial issues facing our society.

So when an issue surfaces to the forefront of people's minds, it should be discussed thoroughly while the public is still focused on it. While we should certainly avoid needlessly aggravating those who have been hurt so badly by the events at Virginia Tech, we shouldn't allow the fear of politicizing an issue to subdue discussion of important issues like gun control.

If we don't talk about these issues now, while the events at Virginia Tech are still fresh in our minds, they may never get talked about until the next tragedy. If we wait a month for everything to settle down and for the nation to go back to business as usual, then we will have lost our chance. By then we will have moved on to discuss the next fleeting issue. What will these 32 individuals have died for then?

The shock we feel over the 32 lost lives at Virginia Tech will eventually pass for most of the country. But as we mourn the victims, let's not squander this brief moment of collective focus.

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Original Source:<a href=http://media.www.californiaaggie.com/media/storage/paper981/news/2007/04/24/Opinion/Glendon.Y.Mccreary-2876664.shtml>The California Aggie - April 24, 2007</a>

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Glendon Y. McCreary

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The California Aggie

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2007-08-23

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Sara Hood

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Eddie Lee <editor@californiaaggie.com>

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eng

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Glendon Y. McCreary, "Glendon Y. McCreary: Discussing a tragedy," in The April 16 Archive, Item #1200, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/1200 (accessed August 28, 2014).