President Obama anticipated criticism Thursday when he called for more stringent gun control measures in the wake of the Oregon shootings. "Somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue," the president said. "Well, this is something we should politicize."
It's a reasonable point. Guns are an important issue in American life, as are mental health and law enforcement. After an event like the one in Oregon and in the face of rising crime in some of the nation's biggest cities how else to deal with them if not through the political system? That doesn't necessarily mean new laws should be passed or existing ones changed. But it does mean there should be a debate about it.
And that applies far beyond the issue of guns. Which is why the president's words might signal a change in his approach to other issues as well. In the past, Obama has urged Americans not to politicize issues that were deeply political in nature but that he wished not to debate. Now, post-Oregon, he has set a new standard for future political arguments. A few examples:
In March of this year, when there was an intense debate about Republican lawmakers' decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the Iran nuclear issue, Obama said, "It is very important for us not to politicize the relationship between Israel and the United States."
A few years earlier, Obama decried the politicization of the Keystone XL pipeline. In a December 2011 news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama said, "The State Department is making sure that it crosses all its T's and dots all its I's before making a final determination. And I think it's worth noting, for those who want to try to politicize this issue, that when it comes to domestic energy production, we have gone all in..."
In January 2009, when he rescinded the "Mexico City Policy" against funding abortions overseas, Obama said, "It is time that we end the politicization of this issue."
In May 2009, in his speech on terrorist detainees, Obama said, "Over the last several weeks, we've seen a return of the politicization of these issues that have characterized the last several years."
The president has also used his spokesmen to condemn the politicization of certain issues. In March of this year, during a debate over funding the Department of Homeland Security, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, "The fact is, trying to politicize something as fundamental to our national security as funding for the Department of Homeland Security is completely inappropriate."
In May 2014, then-spokesman Jay Carney decried Republican calls for more investigation into the terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. "The facts of yesterday are the facts today, and they will be the facts no matter how often or for how long Republicans engage in highly partisan efforts to politicize what was a tragedy," Carney said.
May 2013, Carney said, "This is a subject that has, from its beginning, been subject to attempts to politicize it by Republicans, when, in fact, what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy." And that same month, Carney said, "What we have here with one issue in Benghazi is so clearly as we're learning more and more a political sideshow, a deliberative effort to politicize a tragedy."
So over the years President Obama and his designated spokesman have often spoken out against the politicization of issues of great public importance issues that properly belong in the sphere of political debate. And of course, Republicans have also condemned the politicization of issues they don't want to debate. Now, though, Obama's yes-let's-politicize-this approach to the Oregon killings could be an indication of a significant change. Let the politicization begin.