This, in today’s Grey Lady, got my goat:
While Mr. Sanders’s direct rhetoric is an enduring source of his success, Mrs. Clinton has a way of meandering legalistically through thickets of caution and temporization.
Asked whether she would fire the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to remedy water problems in Flint, Mrs. Clinton gave a nearly 200-word response emphasizing the need for a full investigation to “determine who knew what, when.” Mr. Sanders’ 16-word response drew enormous applause: “President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”
On the one hand, fine: as a performance critique, that’s a perfectly understandable distinction to draw (though in this case even the stated critique is patent BS, about which more in a moment). But there’s more to political journalism than amateur theater criticism.
Some interest, even a glimmer of curiosity in the quality of the content of the answer would be welcome.
So, let’s take a look. When asked if she would fire people at the EPA over the Flint crisis, here’s what Clinton actually said:
CLINTON: Well, I think that the people here in the region, who knew about this and failed to follow what you just said, rightly, the law required, have been eliminated from the EPA.
COOPER: So far, one person has resigned.
CLINTON: I don’t — well, I don’t know how high it goes. I would certainly be launching an investigation. I think there is one. I was told that — you know, some of the higher-ups were pushing to get changes that were not happening.
So I would have a full investigation, determine who knew what, when. And yes, people should be fired. How far up it went, I don’t know. But as far as it goes, they should be relieved, because they failed this city.
But let me just add this, Anderson. This is not the only place where this kind of action is needed. We have a lot of communities right now in our country where the level of toxins in the water, including lead, are way above what anybody should tolerate.
We have a higher rate of tested lead in people in Cleveland than in Flint. So I’m not satisfied with just doing everything we must do for Flint. I want to tackle this problem across the board. And if people know about it and they’re not acting, and they’re in the government at any level, they should be forced to resign.
So — yes, she’d fire people when and as they were found to be culpable, but such actions, she argues, are not enough. I’d go further, and say that they’re cosmetic, unless the same duty of care that Flint deserves is applied across the board.
And I don’t know about you, but to me, the demand to take the lessons of Flint on the road is hardly a legalistic detour into “thickets of caution and temporization.” The gap between that characterization and what was actually said (and not quoted in the offending thumb-sucker) is, shall we say, interesting. Given the Times‘ history with Hillary, I’d even say, suggestive.
I know it’s a lot to ask (it isn’t, actually. It’s merely impossible for current practitioners to answer — ed.) but I’d like to see even a hint of acknowledgement that what Clinton said may have been less dramatic than Sander’s reply, but, just maybe, contained something worth thinking about. Even more, some recognition that two hundred words is not too much to spend on the problem of failed infrastructure, the abandonment of governmental responsibility, and poisoned kids.
Just for perspective — the average speaker takes roughly 80 to 90 seconds, maybe a skosh more, to utter two hundred words. I’d have thought a hero of the English language like a New York Times reporter might have the stamina to stick it out that long.
Color me grumpy.
Image: William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment from the Humours of an Election series, c. 1755