We Care More About Optics Than Substance

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) checks in for a flight at Cancun International Airport after a backlash over his Mexican family vacation as his home state of Texas endured a Winter storm on February 18, 2021 in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
MEGA/GC Images

Why do we care more about what we see someone doing than what they are actually accomplishing?

Case in point: The media has spent the last week screaming “scandal” because Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) flew with his family to Cancun while millions of Texans lost power due to rare low winter temperatures.

But Cruz isn’t the only one caught in the Left’s optics game. Last year, after Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted about coronavirus deaths, activist Shaun King asked if he supported Medicare for All “right now?” Schatz responded: “I don’t know why you are tweeting this like some sort of gotcha but I am a cosponsor of the bill.”

That wasn’t enough for people on the Internet, with one commenter claiming “Cosponsoring the bill means nothing” and denouncing Schatz for not tweeting about Medicare for All, insisting that cosponsoring the bill is nothing more than “vanity support.”

It doesn’t matter that the bill might actually contain the policies these people desire, nor does it matter that Schatz might be personally reaching out to others in Congress to build support for the bill – all that matters is what people see him doing.

I was certainly guilty of this during the Obama years, chastising President Barack Obama for golfing or taking lavish vacations. In reality, since I didn’t agree with his policy proposals, I should have been happy that he wasn’t working. But he also wasn’t really on vacation, and it’s not fair to suggest presidents aren’t allowed to relax or spend time with their families. Obama had young daughters, was he supposed to miss eight years of their lives by working? And as for those expensive destinations, while I don’t like that taxpayers spent so much on them, there was a need for them to be remote and protected.

Much of the same goes for former presidents Donald Trump or George W. Bush, who would “vacation” at their own properties, which still cost taxpayers millions for security. It’s not like these people stopped working completely when they were away from the White House, though maybe some people would prefer they did.

There are times when optics and substance collide, like all the politicians who broke their own coronavirus restrictions. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) breaking restrictions to have dinner with friends at an expensive restaurant is hypocrisy – bad optics and bad substance. The same goes for the Democrats who traveled against their COVID restrictions to celebrate Joe Biden becoming president. They created the policies, but didn’t follow them. It didn’t just look bad, it told people that the politicians are above the rules.

The media, however, is corrupt, often overcovering minor optics mistakes by Republicans while downplaying the substantive mistakes of Democrats. For Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), the substance of his coronavirus response didn’t matter, only the optics – which is why he won an Emmy for his press briefings. It didn’t matter that he unleashed arguably the worst policy in the country (sending coronavirus-positive patients into the most vulnerable population), all that mattered was that he held press conferences. That kind of focus on optics over substance led to thousands of unnecessary deaths in New York, and the media is only just now turning on Cuomo.

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