But while the tenor of the debate feels different, if you sniff around the Internet for a while or flip past MSNBC, you’ll notice that the arguments that the near and far Left are advancing in favor of “doing something” are much the same as they’ve always been. And like the umpteen iterations that followed the last umpteen prominent gun crimes, these arguments are lacking. Not just in their failure to pay due respect to traditionally conservative virtues (devotion to personal freedom, the Constitution, the right to self-defense — take your pick), but in their failure to apply traditionally liberal virtues — virtues such as pragmatism, empiricism, and empathy.
We’re regularly told that the mainstream American Left is largely concerned with “what works” and uniquely in tune with the practice of politics as “the art of the possible,” where “the perfect” is never “the enemy of the good.” This set of skills and the clichés that describe them are typically grouped under the banner of pragmatism. Of course, National Review editors have been known to write entire books problematizing this understanding of pragmatism and its relation to liberalism, but let’s leave such Goldbergian ruminations to one side and accept the conventional use. There is what can only be described as a breathtaking lack of pragmatism in the early post-Newtown gun-control debate.