Politics postsTuesday January 22, 2013
What My $3,000 Helped Buy
“We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.”
“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”
Not to mention the freedom to roll your eyes.
The Way the Right-Wing Has Always Supported Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here are a few lines from Rick Perlstein's book, “Nixonland,” which I read yesterday, and which are particularly appropriate today—both MLK Day and the second inauguration of Barack Obama. They're reminders of how much, and how little, things have changed:
“It is my firm belief, and of all my neighbors, that King should be taken into custody ... Today, the insufferable arrogance of this character places him on a pedestal as a dark-skinned Hiter.”
“When greedy Mr. Hitler started taking over other countries, people at first thought 'give him a little more, then he will be satisfied' ... Give greedy Mr. King a little more freedom then he will stop. Isn't that what we are told today?”
--Constituent letters to U.S. Senator Paul Douglas (D-IL), during the battle for opening house in the summer of 1966; from “Nixonland,” pp. 122 and 123
These days, of course, everyone evokes Dr. King for their own cause, even, absurdly, the NRA. That's how things have changed. At the same time, every prominent black leader, particularly those known for non-violence and compromise, are still being compared to Hitler. That's the way we're hearing the same damned shit.
Back in the day, Steve Kaplan, editor-in-chief at “Minnesota Law & Politics,” used to include a section in the year-end “Turkeys” issue called “Who's Being Compared to Hitler This Year?” It's the comparison that's always absurd and never goes out of style.
Martin Luther King, Jr. after his march for open housing in Chicago was disrupted by violence. He said he'd never seen hatred—not in Alabama or Mississippi—like the hatred he saw in Chicago.
How Grover Norquist is like Abbie Hoffman
I'm reading Rick Perlstein's “Nixonland,” the second volume of his three(?)-volume history on the rise and ascendancy of the far right in the United States and the unmaking of the American consensus. I'm at the summer of 1966. Chicago. Daley and King.
In its broadest sense, America fractured, and remains fractured, over the role of, and our faith in, government. But it's not an either/or proposition. Both sides have their contradictions.
The left believes government can do well domestically (social safety net) but fucks up internationally (Vietnam, Iraq).
The right believes government can do well internationally (Cold War, nation building) but fucks up domestically (welfare state).
All of this is fairly obvious but I didn't really see it with any kind of clarity until this morning. I grew up in the '60s and '70s with the left distrustful of government and came of age with the right distrustful of government, and I thought it was the same thing. It's not. It's really about where you want to spend the money. It's also about which side gets extreme and when. In the 1960s, it was the left, and its embodiments included Abbie Hoffman. Today it's the right, and its emodiments include Grover Norquist.
Again, all fairly obvious. I apologize for even bringing it up.
Idiot of the Day, Month, Year: Wayne La Pierre
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
--The NRA's Wayne La Pierre during a press conference, his first since Newtown, in which he suggested we prevent future school massacres by employing armed guards at every school in the country. A transcript, and a video of his talk, is available here.
Rebuttal from Andrew Sullivan's readers, including a reminder that Columbine had armed guards, not to mention the cost of what La Pierre is suggesting, is available here.
My thoughts? La Pierre is bad for the NRA, which is bad for America. So are all the fools ascribing cultural factors, such as violence in movies and violence in video games, to the various massacres in this country. Because aren't such movies and video games sold and watched and played all over the world? So why the problems here? Is it in our nature? Is America unexceptional? As for the supposed lack of God in our culture, isn't Europe more Godless? Isn't that what these same folks say? So why so much murder here? Why not there?
Let's face it: we have a bit of a gun problem. It's fucking obvious.
Do we blame the 2nd amendment? I was in a discussion about this on Facebook the other day, with people who supported the invidual rights interpretation of the amendment (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms”) rather than the collectivist rights interpretation (“A well regulated militia,” etc.).
Here's the version of the amendment as passed by Congress:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Here's the version as ratified by the States:
We lost two commas and a capital “A,” but both versions contain 27 words. Thirteen of those tend to be ignored by Wayne La Pierre and the NRA. But why ignore them? Seriously. What is the above really saying? It's saying, “Because X, therefore Y.” But X is no longer true. We have a regular army and a National Guard. A well regulated militia is no longer necessary for the security of a free state. And if X is no longer true, Y is no longer therefore.
I know. The U.S. Supreme Court doesn't agree with me. But it used to. For most of its history.
As for La Pierre's quote above about good guys and bad guys with guns? It's the product of Hollywood stupidity. Stupid liberal Hollywood.
Wayne La Pierre of the NRA gave a post-Newtown press conference today (top), which was interrupted by a different message than the one he was bringing (bottom).
Our Country, Our Song
In November 2004 my sister wrote a page-one story for The Wall Street Journal about a group of motorcyclists that lobbied state legislatures to turn back helmet laws. They wanted the wind in their hair when they rode, and they rode around the country, lobbying state legislatures, to make it so. Among other things, they argued that helmets were actually less safe in low-impact crashes, but their evidence on this was suspect and anecdotal. Scientific studies proved the opposite.
No matter. They were successful. By the time of the article, several legislatures had already rescinded their state's mandatory motorcycle helmet laws.
In the back-and-forth email exchange with my sister, I wrote the following:
I just like the unspoken critique of our system in your article: if one side lobbies and the other doesn't, then the first side wins. Even if they're lobbying about something that's kind of insane.
I first heard about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the same way I first heard about the massacre at the movie theater in Aurora, Col., last July: through a posting on Facebook. Same person, I think. Same story, really. I think her post on Aurora even referenced the sameness of it all. Oh crap, this again. Her post yesterday was more charged and horrified. Because it was children in an elementary school. Kids who would never get older than 5 or 6 or 8. Parents who were told their kids were never coming back from school that day.
In the middle of your workday, doing this thing that seems important but isn't, that doesn't matter in the long run—which describes the workday of almost everyone in the world except teachers—you try to touch some aspect of that horrible reality so you don't feel like such an uncaring asshole. It's hard, though. It's impossible, really. There are screens in the way. We're experiencing this through computer screens and TV screens, and some part of us can't get through these screens and some part of us doesn't want to. It's safer where we are, in unreality, sympathizing and empathizing, rather than where they are, where the awful thing has happened. This week's awful thing. So instead we simply feel stunned, numb, guilty, angry. Certainly angry. This is our country, this is our song. We're singing it again. Why?
That's what we eventually get to, after all the lit candles and consoling quotes and angry tweets. Why?
We know why. It's in the above. If one side lobbies and the other doesn't, then the first side wins. Even if they're lobbying about something that's kind of insane.
I'm complicit. I cared about gun control enough that in the 1990s I read Osha Gray Davidon's book “Under Fire: The Nra and the Battle for Gun Control,” which detailed the history of the NRA, and its dramatic shift from a gun-safety group (since the 19th century) to a gun-lobbying organization (beginning in 1978). I read Jill Lepore's article, “Battleground America,” in the New Yorker last year and recommended it to everybody. I saw Michael Moore's documentary. But politics is triage and gun control kept slipping down my list of important issues of the day. We first had to fight George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and al Qaeda and Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers before we got to Wayne LaPierre. We've got to push back against the idiotic thing that Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly or Richard Mourdock or Todd Akin said that day—and if not them someone else. In the modern age, in the 24-hour news cycle, there's always an idiot flapping their gums and being filmed and broadcast and going viral. You could say that is the essence of the 24-hour news cycle. That's what keeps it going. And keeps us distracted.
This election cycle I actually said the following to a friend: “I don't really care much about gun control right now.” And I didn't. Not with everything else going on. Not if taking that stand prevented everything else that needed to happen from happening.
But if one side lobbies and the other doesn't, the first side wins.
That's all it comes down to. We need to have more people who care passionately about this issue, who are willing to put up money and time, than the other side. It's like same-sex marriage: you fight and you fight and you fight and then suddenly the wave crests with you, not against you. Maybe that will happen with gun control someday. Maybe that's beginning to happen now.
I like what Adam Gopnik wrote on the New Yorker site last night. The whole thing is good but this part in particular:
So let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.
The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.
FURTHER READING. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments field. I'll add to it periodically:
- “Battleground America: One Nation, Under the Gun” by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker, April 23, 2012
- “Newtown and the Madness of Guns” by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, December 14, 2012
- Pres. Obama's statement, December 14, 2012
- “In Public Conversation on Guns, a Rhetorical Shift” by Nate Silver in The New York Times, December 14, 2012
- “Nancy Lanza's Guns” by Ben Stocking on the Obamanator site, December 16, 2012
- “How Popular is Gun Control?” by Andrew Sullivan on the Daily Dish, December 17, 2012
- “Obama in Newtown: Ready to Act on Guns?” by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker, December 17, 2012
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard