Can’t be a coincidence that the two most visible Parkland students, David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, are also the most aggressive in attacking their opponents. Kasky’s the one who told Rubio to his face at the CNN town hall rally that he couldn’t look at him without seeing the Parkland shooter peering back over the barrel of an AR-15. Here’s Hogg at yesterday’s march treating Rubio, who has four kids, as some sort of contract killer of children for wanting to protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Does the media gravitate to them because they’re over the top or are they over the top because the media’s gravitating to them? Right, I know: “They’re over the top because their school just got shot up and therefore they’re entitled to smear anyone they want.” Most of their classmates have managed to restrain themselves somehow under the same circumstances but that’s why Hogg and Kasky are the stars of this gun-control show. When the new spokesmen for your movement can say things for which anyone else would rightly be lambasted, take advantage.
"I’m going to start off by putting this price tag right here as a reminder for you guys to know how much Marco Rubio took for every student's life in Florida," Parkland survivor David Hogg says at #MarchForOurLives. pic.twitter.com/i54QSygI4C
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) March 24, 2018
Consolation prize for Rubio: Others got it worse.
Read Sarah Rumpf on why Rubio is a strange scapegoat. No Republican has been more aggressive over the past month in pushing legislative proposals, often in partnership with Democrats, to try to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous lunatics. He’s a politician and so he’s worried about his electoral prospects, fearing that this issue will have unusual potency in Florida and might come back to bite him in the next election. But he’s also a politician who doesn’t face voters again for four and a half years and who nearly retired from the Senate once before, until Republican leaders twisted his arm into changing his mind and running again. Whatever his motive, earnest or self-interested, he’s trying to make things better.
Yet he continues to be the designated hate object for this gun-control push:
This is not a great rhetorical strategy. pic.twitter.com/XoMSr2meg6
— Jeff B., who on earth is this guy?? (@EsotericCD) March 24, 2018
Mostly that’s a function of geography. The shooting happened in Florida, he’s the most dogmatic conservative statewide officeholder in Florida, ergo he’s a vampire sucking the blood from the veins of the Stoneman Douglas children. Why, though, hasn’t his past month of legislative effort led the students to focus on other Republicans (or at least other purple-state Republicans) instead? This is, after all, supposedly a national movement. I think it’s because once you’ve got a good hate object, it’s foolish to replace him. Rubio has a national profile from his 2016 run and the left already despises him for various reasons, starting with his willingness to make peace with Trump after attacking him in the primaries. And he made what appears in hindsight to have been a tactical mistake by attending that CNN town hall. He went to show that he was earnest about finding a compromise and to prove that he wouldn’t hide from his constituents but in practice it made him the face of the opposition in the minds of anti-gun viewers. Now it’s the kids versus the NRA and the right, symbolized by Marco Rubio.
Which, of course, is the real reason righties take umbrage at Hogg and Kasky. Rubio’s just a stand-in for gun-rights supporters generally. They mean to say that the blood is on your hands, not just his, since he’s perfectly mainstream among the right in his opinions on guns. But even kids are savvy enough to know that you’re more likely to retain the public’s goodwill if you’re smearing a politician as a murderer rather than the voters who elected him.
Rubio may also be stuck as the hate object here *because* he’s been the Republican most open to compromise on gun control lately. That seems counterintuitive: Why punish the guy who’s willing to work with you? By definition, though, the guy willing to work with you is more susceptible to pressure than the guy who isn’t. It’d do them no good to attack a Republican who’s adamantly pro-gun and won’t compromise. And why would they credit Rubio for his proposals when those proposals are way, way short of their ambitions? It’s not just lunatics whom they want to disarm, it’s the law-abiding. They don’t want “gun-violence restraining orders” to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people, they want a ban on assault weapons at a minimum and ideally something much more far-reaching. Agreeing to Rubio’s proposals might actually damage the cause of banning guns since it might sate the public’s appetite for greater regulation, at least for a good long while. They want all the guns, and increasingly they’re not shy about saying so.
"When they give us that inch, the bump stock ban, we will take a mile" – the current speaker at the #MarchForOurLives
— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) March 24, 2018
It’s silly of me or anyone else to police the “tone” of this debate, though, since there is no debate. What the research says about gun control or whether exceedingly rare events like mass school shootings can be legislated out of existence is beside the point. This is about catharsis. In that sense Hogg’s and Kasky’s viciousness towards gun owners is understandable. They can articulate the id of gun-controllers because, as not just children but victims, they’re double-insulated from the usual rules of political debate. The media didn’t spend 12 hours yesterday slobbering over the marches because there were some keen policy proposals at stake, they did it because it was a show of strength by and for a cause they ardently support. Calling gun-rights advocates bloodsuckers was the point.