Douthat: Gun debate is emblematic of our dysfunctional politics
posted at 11:31 am on December 23, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
Ross Douthat has a thought-provoking column in today’s New York Times about how the extreme voices seized the moment in the gun debate, and how the demand for “solutions” prompts the most radical elements to grab the microphones. One doesn’t have to necessarily agree with all of the assumptions Douthat makes in order to get his larger point, either:
The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite. Like so many members of that class, Bloomberg combines immense talent with immense provincialism: his view of American politics is basically the famous New Yorker cover showing Manhattan’s West Side overshadowing the world, and his bedrock assumption is that the liberal paternalism with which New York is governed can and should be a model for the nation as a whole.
It’s an assumption that cries out to be challenged by a thoughtful center-right. If you look at the specific proposals being offered by Bloomberg and others, some just look like reruns of assault weapon regulations that had no obvious effect the last time they were tried. Others still might have an impact on gun violence, but only at a cost: the popular idea of cracking down hard on illegal handguns, for instance, would probably involve “stop and frisk” on a huge scale, and might throw more young men in prison at a time when our incarceration rates are already too high.
But instead of a kind of skepticism and sifting from conservatives, after a week of liberal self-righteousness the spotlight passed instead to … Wayne LaPierre. And no Stephen Colbert parody of conservatism could match theNational Rifle Association spokesman’s performance on Friday morning.
It wasn’t so much that LaPierre’s performance made no concession whatsoever on gun restrictions or gun safety — that was to be expected. It was that he launched into a rambling diatribe against an absurdly wide array of targets, blaming everything from media sensationalism to “gun-free schools” signs to ’90s-vintage nihilism like “Natural Born Killers” for the Newtown tragedy. Then he proposed, as an alternative to the liberal heavy-handedness of gun control, something equally heavy-handed — a cop in every school, to be paid for by that right-wing old reliable, cuts to foreign aid.
Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall.
The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all.
In one sense, the problem is less the debate and more the intent — and the current debate over the Newtown massacre underscores it. These horrific events are exceedingly rare, but it seems that everyone wants to propose a political solution as though they were commonplace. Seize the guns! Arm all teachers! A federal armed guard in every schoolhouse! Lock up the video games! None of these will prevent twisted and/or evil minds from seeking prey, whether with guns, machetes, bombs or whatever means they have at their disposal.
In other words, politics can’t prevent sick people inculcated with a diseased view of the sanctity of life from doing bad things, because it’s a part of our nature and more importantly, our culture. Politics and government can only deal with the aftermath. In order to reduce or eliminate the violence in our culture, we all have to engage the culture to change it. Passing a law to do any of the above is the easy, cheap, and lazy way of avoiding that very hard truth. Politics can’t solve this problem, and neither can regulation — and almost all of those options I mentioned above have already been tried and proven this to be true.
It’s time for all sides to start doing the heavy lifting, and to change the culture through thoughtful and purposeful individual participation, rather than look to government to change it for us.
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