How long did it take Friday's massive Japanese earthquake to become a political tool? A few hours. As with many major news stories, the earthquake followed a familiar cycle: pundits floating potential ramifications (see our earlier story on how some people never fail to strike exactly the wrong tone), commenters recoiling in horror, and other pundits protesting that this is a conversation we need to have.
Matt Yglesias infuriated Twitterers with his tweet that "House GOP wants to slash National Weather Service budget, stop spending money on wasteful tsunami monitoring." (The proposal--which sought to cut $61 billion in federal spending--included a 28 percent cut in funding for the National Weather Service.) Followers were outraged that he was devoid of "shame and decency" by indulging in "cheap partisan hackery" "in light of hundreds dead."
But it was a pretty good story, apparently! Several reporters followed up, with Mother Jones's Suzy Khimm reporting that the House Republican budget would "cripple" the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Hawaii's Rep. Colleen Hanabusa calling the cuts reckless. The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen stepped in to defend Yglesias. "I think Matt is raising a fair point," Benen writes. "Blaming Republicans for the disaster or its effects would obviously be crazy, but that's not the argument here. Rather, there's a proposal pending in Congress that has renewed relevance this morning, and it's not unreasonable to connect its importance with developments in the Pacific."
How else can we politicize the tragedy? Here are four more options aside from the one listed above--two already floated, two that haven't been brought up yet, but we wouldn't be surprised to hear about in the next few days:
Maybe Unions Aren't So Bad: Slate's Dave Weigel sees it as an opening for public service unions getting hammered in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Noting the weather service union's pushback against the cuts, Weigel writes, "I think we've found a government worker more sympathetic than the proverbial unionized teacher."
The Benefits of Building Codes and Smart Government Regulation: Japan is the country best prepared for earthquakes, The New York Times' Norimitsu Onishi reports, because of its strict building codes. "As a small example: regulations can be onerous and often unnecessary, but everyone today is happy that Japan’s building codes are as stringent as they are," Commentary's Omri Ceren writes. He adds, "as we listen to commentary today about the fragility of humanity and the sublime power of nature, let’s keep in mind that the Japanese were very clearly not impotent in the face of today’s disaster. They were prepared, thanks to a stable government and civil institutions, and to long-term industrialization."
That's only the beginning. A couple suggestions:
The Danger of Nuclear Power: Japan declared a "nuclear emergency" as attempts to cool down plants hit by the quake are "not going as planned."
The Need for Massive Military: The U.S. is sending more ships to join the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier already in Japan.