Detainees wait in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, June 18, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas.
Eric Gay/AP

Lazy labels replace deliberate debate

The first reference to the humanitarian border crisis as “Obama’s Katrina” reference seemed to pop up on Monday, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Members of Congress and political strategists are on board with the rhetoric, too.
 
Part of the problem, as we talked about the other day, is the political world’s mistaken drive to constantly look for historical parallels that don’t apply. Every manufactured, faux controversy that pops up gets the “Obama’s Watergate” label, and every policy challenge seems to get the “Obama’s Katrina” label. As of this week, there are at least 10 of each (and counting).
 
But as Alec MacGillis explained, the broader problem is that there’s a complex problem for the nation to consider, and sticking a lazy label on it obscures the details that actually matter.
There are countless facets of the crisis to consider. What role are child trafficking laws playing in hamstringing the Obama administration in sending the kids back home? Should we, in fact, reevaluate our asylum laws to reckon with the claims of the new arrivals that they are fleeing rampant political and gang violence in El Salvador and Honduras? Where should the children be housed in the interim while their final status is being adjudicated, given the NIMBYism that has quickly sprung up in some of the locations under consideration?
 
One could delve into these questions. Or, if among the Beltway commentariat, one could just dwell on the political optics, which means asking, for the ninth time in the past five and a half years, “Is this Obama’s Katrina?”
Political bumper stickers, hashtags, sloganeering, and soundbites are easy. Problem-solving is hard. The more there’s a focus on labels the less there’s a focus on solutions (or in this case, Congress’ reluctance to consider solutions). I’m not suggesting political considerations are irrelevant to every policy challenge – that’s obviously not the case; I obsess over politics just about every day – but the over-simplification of thorny problems doesn’t do anyone any favors.
 
Besides, the comparison itself really doesn’t stand up well to scrutiny.
 
More from MacGillis:
In [Katrina], we were presented with an administration that willfully downplayed both the immediate threat of the approaching storm and the broader threat that, if the climatologists are to be believed, was represented by the storm.
 
In [the border crisis], we are presented with an administration struggling to contain one particularly dramatic manifestation of a problem – a broken immigration policy – that the administration itself has been trying to fix, has indeed made its chief priority for the remainder of the president’s term, but has been stymied in comprehensively addressing by the identity crisis–driven obstructionism and indifference of the party that controls the House of Representatives.
For many, “Obama’s Katrina” is about assessing blame, holding the president personally responsible for a problem Republicans don’t appear willing to help solve.
 
There has to be a smarter way to talk about the issue.
 

Barack Obama, Hurricane Katrina, Immigration Policy and Katrina

Lazy labels replace deliberate debate