There were a lot of things that happened Thursday when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) came to Washington and testified on Capitol Hill about the multifaceted mess that is the Flint, Mich., water crisis. The Fix's own Amber Phillips, an experienced congressional reporter, went, saw and wrote about most of the big moments yesterday. It's worth a read.
But there was, in the midst of Snyder's testimony and the five-hour hearing around it, a moment in which Snyder and any set of political allies or advisers who may have advised him should truly and deeply regret.
It displayed the all-too-common but reprehensibly self-centered impulse of American politicians to equate or even prioritize the political cost and/or challenge created by failures above what those failures mean in the lives of their constituents. It is a type of reasoning that appears to suggest the damage to Snyder's once-promising political career is on par with the very real possibility that almost 8,000 children -- possibly more -- may suffer life-altering permanent brain damage as a result of the lead that leached into the city's tap water.
Just to be clear, young children under age 5 are particularly susceptible to the speech and learning delays and lifelong difficulties, impulse control and information retention -- among many, many other problems that lead exposure can cause. The damage cannot be undone.
Given that, this exchange between Snyder and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) pretty much had to happen. The following was pulled from the transcript of the congressional hearing on Flint:
CUMMINGS: Okay. It looks like almost everyone knew about these problems except you. You were completely missing in action. That's not leadership. What do you think?
SNYDER: I was not missing in action, congressman. I was -- I had ongoing discussions of water issues in Flint. I received number of briefings on it and continuing response from the experts, whether to Dennis Muchmore or other people when you look at the record is that they would tell you, "it was safe."
CUMMINGS: Now, you can understand why the residents of Flint would be skeptical about what you're saying, right? I mean...
CUMMINGS: I mean, they're not like us. They just know somebody - "chief of staff -- that sounds like somebody very important. That sounds like somebody that would answer directly to the Governor." I mean, you can kind of understand that concern, can't you?
SNYDER: I absolutely do, sir. I will have to live with this my entire life.
CUMMINGS: On your website -- governor, you know what?
You know, I have heard you say that but I got to tell you, there are children that got to live with it -- the damage that has been done for the rest of their lives. And it is painfully painful to think that a child could be damaged until the day they die and that their destiny has been cut off and messed up. So, yes, you have to live with it. But they -- many of the children will never be what God intended them to be when they were born. And conceived.
There is a real limit to how much can -- and needs to be -- said here. So we're going to stop at this: Almost every day now, a politician somewhere complains that some serious issue -- some life-altering matter -- is being "politicized" and/or twisted for the unseemly advantage of one party or another. This complaint has, in fact, become a way for some public figures to avoid serious question and substantive answers to public health and safety matters.
What happened on Capitol Hill on Thursday -- specifically, what Synder said -- should truly serve as an example to any and all parties involved in politics as the absolute limit. This was a repugnant demonstration of the point at which politics outpace human need and experience in the minds of men and women given awesome responsibilities by American voters.
Matters as large and as incontrovertible as drinking water in every American city should not contain elements that will derail children's lives really are far more important than any political party or any one political career. Anyone in any party who holds political office should embrace and understand that completely.