Green Room

Douthat: Gun debate is emblematic of our dysfunctional politics

posted at 11:31 am on December 23, 2012 by

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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What can prevent sick individuals from acting out is a proper procedure for dealing with them. Yes, I mean reversing the disastrous deinstitutionalization protocols that led to a significant uptick in violent crime. Of course the ACLU would fight it, which means it’s most likely the right thing to do.

gryphon202 on December 23, 2012 at 11:35 AM

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.

Right. The correct thing to do may be to do nothing. But politics in this country is starting to resemble those of an emotional mob. Try telling a mob that doing nothing is the right thing to do.

Revenant on December 23, 2012 at 11:38 AM

Right. The correct thing to do may be to do nothing. But politics in this country is starting to resemble those of an emotional mob. Try telling a mob that doing nothing is the right thing to do.

Revenant on December 23, 2012 at 11:38 AM

…or the correct thing to do may simply have nothing to do with gun control. There are other options.

gryphon202 on December 23, 2012 at 11:42 AM

Sorry, but I just can’t reconcile the placement of “Douthat” and “larger point” in the same sentence.

The Constitution is coming under more and more brazen assault each and every day, and his biggest concern is that everybody isn’t playing nice.

Cylor on December 23, 2012 at 11:43 AM

What makes us think we can prepare for every eventuality? You shore up the levees in New Orleans after Katrina, and Sandy hits the northeast. In the real world, we judge the likelihood of calamity versus the cost of preparation, and make decisions on that basis. My heart bleeds for the people of Newtown, but the chances of another such event happening in your own town are vanishingly small. Is it worth spending billions and throwing away cherished rights for the merest possibility that we can avoid another Newtown? The reality is, evil will find a way.

Tyrone Slothrop on December 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Is it worth spending billions and throwing away cherished rights for the merest possibility that we can avoid another Newtown? The reality is, evil will find a way.

Tyrone Slothrop on December 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate it. Every malum se law, like those against stealing and murder, have a basis in moral judgement. I think we should be able to make those same moral judgments about people such as Adam Lanza who have demonstrably proven themselves to be a threat to those around them.

gryphon202 on December 23, 2012 at 12:03 PM

Token conservative spends most of the article trashing conservatives… just saying.

Illinidiva on December 23, 2012 at 12:05 PM

… about how the extreme voices .

What was the extreme voice that LaPierre expressed?

Again with the extremist meme.

Mimzey on December 23, 2012 at 12:07 PM

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.

What is rambling about that? What is extreme about that? Douthat gets paid to write this stuff? There are two sides to every issue. Duh! I guess Douthat thinks that the conservative viewpoint should compromise every time on every issue. Even MoveOn.org agrees with the armed guard in the schools concept.

Vince on December 23, 2012 at 12:27 PM

It’s not just political dysfunction; it’s two different cultures. If you recall Obama’s comments about those in flyover coutnry clinging to their God and guns, you see the split.

The left has nothing but contempt for conservative culture, including conservatives’ valuing faith, family, independence, individual rights, self-reliance, federalism, or respect for human life. This is at odds with a secular culture that wants the only loyalty to be to the state, the greater good, whatever.

We are to respect other’s cultures, except for that of conservative Christian Americans, who are “intolerant.” The state will protect you, so you don’t need a gun. The state will support Julia, so she doesn’t need a husband, nor her child a father.

Liberals like to talk about “dialogue,” but for them that means lecturing their “unlightened” opponents. Someone like a David Mamet, Andrew Breitbart, or Clarence Thomas, etc., rattles them, for these people should “know better” than to be conservative.

Wethal on December 23, 2012 at 12:52 PM

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.

Yeah, it provoked this thought: Blather.

This is not dysfunctional politics. The quality of proposals aside, this is politics as intended and especially so on subjects in which there are fundamental disagreements on core principles.

Extremists are just the partisans in their respective camps who are unafraid to espouse the principles which animate each camp, shorn of desire to appeal to the majority, stripped of the veils which cover it’s intent, and raised high to reveal the underlying beliefs on human nature and our relationships to each other.

Moderates will not jump to grab the microphones to raise their voices for they have little or nothing to say beyond the idea that compromise is essential and there is no work to be done on that front until the positions to be compromised are made clear. Only then will the moderates have the things to juggle and mix in their efforts to propose deals plausibly seen as win-wins instead of lose-loses.

This subject is a mess because there are at the least three core principles are involved:

- Freedom of speech as relates to reporting by the Press, Hollywood productions and game manufacturing are being weighed,

- Freedom to defend one-self as relates to access to arms and limitations of when it can be exercised,

- Freedom from the deprivation of liberty, and the right to due process as it relates to the mentally ill and, I might as well add, habitual criminals,

I’d also point out that there is still one essential problem that should be noted and that there is still has been no refined and precise definition of the problem that should be solved and goal(s) to be achieved.

I don’t mind extremists who are salesmen of principles as they can be honest in their intent. What I detest are the extremists demanding that something be done now or do nothing at all since they’re only goal is to bypass the deliberative process of laying out the goals, proposals, facts and evidence so that solutions that do in fact work, or have the best chance of meeting the goals, can be weighed by the public in order to gain majority support.

It’s the latter, the “Do Something Now!” extremists whose only intent is to deceive, mislead, coerce and hinder the weighing of the problem and solutions. They are an anathema to the democracy and the Republic as a whole.

Dusty on December 23, 2012 at 3:24 PM

LaPierre’s statement was clear, thoughtful and spot on. Instead of paying attention to the squawking class’s reformulation, you can view the whole speech on the NRA.ORG website. Watch it and compare what LaPierre to the misrepresentation coming from EVERY media source.

The real problem in America and the “gun debate” is cultural. On one side is “self-reliance” while on the other “dependence”. In the “dependent” category you have 3 groups: the “needy”, the “elites” and the “public servants”. To explain a bit more. The “needy” are an obviously dependent group. The “elites”, the rich, are not quite so obvious because the revel in their dependence as a perk of their wealth and/or position or “intellectual” prowess. No the elites would dirty their hands in “self-reliant” activities, such things are beneath them. And of course, the “public servants” who get paid to pander to the dependency of the two other groups.

No society can afford the growth of the dependencies. No society can afford the willful blindness of the intellectual elites.

We must take care of ourselves. We must encourage that behavior instead of discouraging it. Bureaucracies, Unions, guilds, etc create artificial structures which always collapse as their failures to perform become obvious.

CrazyGene on December 23, 2012 at 3:37 PM

LaPierre’s statement was clear, thoughtful and spot on. Instead of paying attention to the squawking class’s reformulation, you can view the whole speech on the NRA.ORG website. Watch it and compare what LaPierre said to the misrepresentation coming from EVERY media source.

The real problem in America and the “gun debate” is cultural. On one side is “self-reliance” while on the other “dependence”. In the “dependent” category you have 3 groups: the “needy”, the “elites” and the “public servants”. To explain a bit more. The “needy” are an obviously dependent group. The “elites”, the rich, are not quite so obvious because the revel in their dependence as a perk of their wealth and/or position or “intellectual” prowess. None of the elites would dirty their hands in “self-reliant” activities, such things are beneath them. And of course, the “public servants” who get paid to pander to the dependency of the two other groups.

No society can afford the growth of the dependencies. No society can afford the willful blindness of the intellectual elites.

We must take care of ourselves. We must encourage that behavior instead of discouraging it. Bureaucracies, unions, guilds, etc create artificial structures which always collapse as their failures to perform become obvious.

CrazyGene on December 23, 2012 at 3:40 PM

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.

You are correct, but this was initiated by the left, and as usual the right reacts to the left’s silliness with more silliness. Panic, because if anyone had the gumption to say what you just said….they are going to be accused of being an unfeeling monster. Essentially this is a symptom of the increasing feminization of our society

What can prevent sick individuals from acting out is a proper procedure for dealing with them. Yes, I mean reversing the disastrous deinstitutionalization protocols that led to a significant uptick in violent crime. Of course the ACLU would fight it, which means it’s most likely the right thing to do.

gryphon202 on December 23, 2012 at 11:35 AM

This is the only sensible solution, but to be fair, it will be opposed by the right as well as the left, because institutionalization costs a lot of money. Back in the day, the right,pushed for deinstitutionalization as a cost-cutting measure, the left pushed for it as a civil-rights issue.

Dreadnought on December 23, 2012 at 4:14 PM

This is the only sensible solution, but to be fair, it will be opposed by the right as well as the left, because institutionalization costs a lot of money. Back in the day, the right,pushed for deinstitutionalization as a cost-cutting measure, the left pushed for it as a civil-rights issue.

Dreadnought on December 23, 2012 at 4:14 PM

I’m afraid you are most likely correct about that. One life is a tragedy. Twenty-six lives is a statistic. I really think that if movement conservatives are completely honest with themselves, most will concede that they believe that’s a small price to pay in the scheme of things. I and the parents of those twenty dead children see it a little differently.

gryphon202 on December 23, 2012 at 4:39 PM

Over the last decade, approx 20ish people out of more than 300 million, have done something horrific. So, lets punish the over 300 million? Where’s all the talk about the parent’s failure? Goofy mom who taught him to shoot, knowing he had a severe mental illness, and daddy who appears to have abandoned him, for the most part, to start over, and make a new family, that didn’t include Issues Son? That’s where the “talk” needs to start.

di butler on December 23, 2012 at 6:14 PM

What makes us think we can prepare for every eventuality? You shore up the levees in New Orleans after Katrina, and Sandy hits the northeast. In the real world, we judge the likelihood of calamity versus the cost of preparation, and make decisions on that basis. My heart bleeds for the people of Newtown, but the chances of another such event happening in your own town are vanishingly small. Is it worth spending billions and throwing away cherished rights for the merest possibility that we can avoid another Newtown? The reality is, evil will find a way.

Tyrone Slothrop on December 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Agree. And, if we spend a billion a year to make schools inpenetrable, the next mass shooting might be by a freak who runs onto a bus at a bus stop and opens fire. One could easily kill as many in one bus as died at Sandy Hook, and we’ve got more buses rolling around than school buildings, and twice daily. Metal detectors and police on every bus?

Maybe the correct question, alluded to in this collumn, is why these soft targets are attacked so infrequently, instead of weekly or daily? Maybe, it’s because for most nutjobs they are too easy a target. Maybe making them harder to breach would actually make a game of it to the sicko.

shuzilla on December 23, 2012 at 7:53 PM

What was the extreme voice that LaPierre expressed?

Again with the extremist meme.

Mimzey on December 23, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Perhaps you would like to join me in referring to all democrats as radical leftists, since they call everyone who disagrees with them right wing extremists.

Night Owl on December 24, 2012 at 5:33 AM

What was the extreme voice that LaPierre expressed?

Again with the extremist meme.

Mimzey on December 23, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Perhaps you would like to join me in referring to all democrats as radical leftists, since they call everyone who disagrees with them right wing extremists.

Night Owl on December 24, 2012 at 5:33 AM

It is a good idea, and an accurate description-I stopped using the innacurate term “liberal” a long time ago.

Dreadnought on December 24, 2012 at 8:38 AM