When politics stops — and how it never really does

at 04:47 PM ET, 07/20/2012

In a speech today addressing the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado, President Obama said that “there are going to be other days for politics...This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.”


US President returns early to the White House in Washington,DC on July 20, 2012 after cancelling a campaign stop in Florida. Obama and his rival Mitt Romney suspended their campaigning out of respect for the victims of a shocking shooting at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 people dead and over 50 injured. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM
He’s right. Both Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney canceled planned campaign rallies, pulled negative ads and generally refrained from doing anything that appeared even remotely political.

But, to assume that politics ever truly stops in this country — even in moments of national tragedy and mourning like this one — is a mistake. Politics and political campaigns don’t happen in a vacuum. Every external event — from the joyous to the tragic — is a piece of the broader political puzzle.

Just hours after the scope of the shootings became clear, politics came creeping back into the discussion.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the shootings as a call to action for both Obama and Romney. “Soothing words are nice,” Bloomberg said in a radio interview. “But maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country.”

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (D) highlighted the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association as a blockade for better and more gun laws in the country in a discussion about the shootings. Rendell also decried Congress’ failure to re-authorize the Assault Weapons Ban as an “act of cowardice.”

Then there was the reports that the shooter — James Holmes — was a member of a Colorado tea party group (not true) or a Democrat (not proven).

As the initial shock of the shootings — in which 71 people were shot and 12 of those were killed — wears off, expect lots more talk about what this means for the long-dormant debate over gun control and, more broadly, what it says about our society that these sorts of events occur. (As we have written, it’s very unlikely that either candidate will highlight gun issues as the campaign re-starts.)

As the shootings move into our collective rear view mirror, the campaigns of Obama and Romney will have to make calculations — calculations that are almost certainly already under way — about when to return to the trail and when to begin re-airing negative ads in Colorado. And, you can be sure that both candidates carefully crafted their public statements today to strike the right tone at a time of national sadness.

To acknowledge those political realities isn’t to lessen the loss of those in Aurora. A tragedy is a tragedy. But a tragedy also impacts the way people perceive their country and their elected leaders. And that perception doesn’t disappear once events like the one in Aurora, Colorado move out of the national spotlight.

Politicians recognize that reality. And, because people never stop making judgments about their leaders, politics never really stops — even if politicians say it does.

 
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