Editorial: What Lauren Underwood said, what she meant and why it doesn't matter

  • House Homeland Security Committee member Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Naperville Democrat, looks to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday

    House Homeland Security Committee member Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Naperville Democrat, looks to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday Associated Press Photo

 
Posted5/23/2019 4:14 PM

How you interpret Lauren Underwood's comments on Wednesday is probably a pretty good indicator of where you fall on our nation's great divide.

The freshman congresswoman from Naperville was questioning Kevin McAleenan, the temporary head of the Department of Homeland Security, at a hearing over his department's budget. Her line of questioning was the five (now six) children who have died while in custody at the U.S. southern border.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Congress has been more than willing to provide the resources and work with you to address the security and humanitarian concerns but at this point, with five kids that have died, 5,000 separated from their families -- I feel like, and the evidence is really clear, that this is intentional," Underwood told McAleenan. "It's a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it's cruel and inhumane."

If you are of the view that family separation is a harsh but necessary policy that discourages immigration and protects the southern border, you may well believe -- as the committee's top Republican, Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers said -- that Underwood was accusing the administration of murdering children.

If you are of the view that having thousands of families separated at the border without any clear path to reunification and children housed in detention centers is a catastrophe of the Trump Administration's making, you would interpret her remarks as administration policies having created a situation where children can -- and are -- actually dying while in U.S. custody.

To suggest that the administration is deliberately letting children die would be outrageous.

But by being able to drive a wedge between the sentiment and the words used to express it, the story suddenly shifts focus, away from border conditions and onto Underwood herself.

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As she undoubtedly knows now, once you have to explain your remarks, the intended impact of them fizzles out like a wet firecracker.

"There are policies that have been put in place that contribute to the ongoing medical conditions, lack of availability of treatment and the way (migrants) are handled before they are able to access medical providers," Underwood told Daily Herald reporter Jim Fuller afterward.

Too late. The point is this is how we talk at each other now. Our 24/7 diet of hyperbole has partisans of every stripe waiting to pounce on any opening, no matter the intent of the speaker or most important, the nature of the serious problem waiting to be solved.

Until the day when our nation's leaders are more devoted to problem-solving than scoring a "win" for their team, Underwood -- and anyone seeking to have a constructive conversation about issues -- will have to keep that in mind.

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