There’s something that puzzles me about some of the reactions and reactions-to-reactions that have followed the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. There seem to be these unspoken rules that it’s unseemly for presidential candidates to use this crisis to draw contrasts with each other and that the American media shouldn’t make this story “all about us” by linking it with domestic politics. The notion that discussing politics in the wake of Bhutto’s death is out of bounds is ridiculous. She was murdered by her political opponents, so unless you knew her personally (thanks for the reminders Sen. Clinton), any discussion of the assassination is inherently political.
When you’re president, you don’t get to pick and choose which crises you get to get to respond to (unless you’re George W. Bush), so at the very least, the candidates for the presidency better have something to say about Bhutto’s death. Considering that we’re only looking at 6-8 viable candidates for the next leader of our country, if any of these candidates have a reaction that highlights their differences, then it’s all the better for those of us who are trying to decide who to vote for. I’m not saying this to attack or defend any specific comments. If anything, some of the more crass reactions are as illuminating as the more substantive discussions of foreign policy. If a candidate’s reaction to this news is a tactless and substance-free attack on their opponent, then it’s good to know that about a candidate before stepping into the ballot box.
There are many reasons to bash traditional media outlets, but examining the effect that Bhutto’s assassination might have on the presidential race isn’t one of them. When the American media is reporting to the American public how the most important story in the world will effect the choice of who will be our next leader (a process that begins in less than a week), this doesn’t cheapen or trivialize the death of Bhutto, it adds context and highlights the importance of the issue. Most Americans probably didn’t know or care about Pakistani politics a week ago, but it’s an important lesson to the America people that this slain promoter of democracy was running against a military coup leader who’s considered a key ally to the United States.
Bhutto’s death will have a profound effect on international politics. There are key differences between the foreign policy positions of our current leader and those of the men and woman who are trying to replace him. Considering that presidential contests are largely decided on trivial differences, using an international crisis to highlight something more substantive than an expensive haircut or where a particular candidate went to elementary school is a good thing.