Opinion

Deconstructing The Liberal Narrative About The Flint Water Crisis

Ian Shetron Researcher, Luntz Global Partners

I haven’t spoken much of the city of Flint’s water crisis among my out-of-town friends, primarily because it’s such a sad story, and in reality, an apolitical one. But it’s important for people everywhere to get the whole story.

This past Saturday, Michael Moore went to city hall and held a little protest and media scrum, wherein he demanded the “arrest” of our governor, Rick Snyder. It’s a regular source of amusement for me how concerned Michael Moore becomes about Flint whenever he’s got a movie to sell. But I digress.

Michael Moore coming out to demand someone’s arrest is not news. But what caused him to do it is significant. The situation in Flint has reached national attention. I now have friends from around the country asking me about it, asking if I’ve got clean water.

But why now? Questions have been flying for over a year, and it was back in October that the city returned to getting their water from Detroit. The answer: politics. Pushers from all over the country suddenly realized the potential for the story to fit neatly into their larger narrative. So, they’ve decided to lay blame for the crisis at the feet of Rick Snyder, and thus, the entire Republican Party. Brilliant.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Governor Snyder deserves his share of the blame, as he’s ultimately responsible for what happens in government in the state. But clearly, the lion’s share of responsibility rests with the city.

It was the city – not the state, or the Governor, or the Department of Environmental Quality – that decided to go to the Flint River as an interim water source while our pipeline to Lake Huron was completed. City Council voted 7-1 to support the plan, and the mayor approved it. And it wasn’t a difficult decision; the city has considered the Flint River a backup water source for decades. I was in meetings in 2008, two years before Rick Snyder was first elected, where community leaders of all political stripes backed the Flint River option as Detroit continued to raise rates, the reason Flint and surrounding areas had decided to build their own pipeline in the first place.

And the blame rests with more than just elected officials. Unelected bureaucrats and city workers responsible for providing clean water were clearly negligent from start to finish. Ignored emails to city and county departments from the state bear that out. For their unresponsiveness to complaints from citizens, and their inability to adequately clean the water in the first place, many of them deserve to lose their jobs, be investigated and, if necessary, face prosecution.

No, the pushers say, Flint was under the control of an unelected, state-appointed emergency manager stooge when the switch to Flint River water occurred, making the state responsible. This is true. But look at who this “stooge” is. Darnell Earley was involved in Flint city government for many years prior to becoming emergency manager, even including a stint as interim mayor. After that, he was appointed Natural Resources Commissioner under Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. It’s hardly the résumé of a Republican yes-man. What’s more, as I’ve indicated, Mr. Earley’s actions were in continuity with the progress the city had already made in planning and executing their water plan.

What’s my point? It is simply this: I wish that when Flint had a problem (and it’s had its share), people would simply work to fix it, rather than pointing fingers. The fact that Flint’s ongoing water crisis is national news is largely a function of fulfilling a political agenda, rather than the very real human tragedy. I wish people like Michael Moore cared about Flint in the times when there aren’t cheap political points to be made, movies to market, or headlines to create.