Missing the point on Fast and Furious

This week we are likely to see the next act unfold in the ongoing saga of the Fast and Furious investigation as the full House considers whether or not to take any further action regarding the Attorney General’s reticence in handing over documents related to the program. One result of this has been some sadly predictable tongue clucking and accusations from the anti-gun lobby on the Left. The rationale invoked in these screeds is curious at best, but given how common it’s become we should probably take a look at a couple of prime examples.

The first comes to us courtesy of Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic. An early indicator to look for is the often repeated array of adjectives which these critics of the critics of the program use when describing it. Cohen goes with “failed gun-running sting.” He later ups the ante with, “a bad idea, poorly done.” It’s a constant theme these days in liberal coffee klatches. F&F wasn’t all that unusual or worthy of all this attention… it was just a poorly thought out effort to address a criminal problem.

So what should we be concerned about, in Cohen’s humble opinion?

None of this rancor excuses the poor judgment — across two administrations — which generated the program itself. And none of it justifies the burgeoning political battle over the scope of the documents the Republicans want Holder to hand over. Like so much else about Washington’s ruined politics these days, the partisan shouting will escalate, ribbons of blame will be laid, vast amounts of time and money will be spent, and the real problem will go unsolved…

But what’s the “real problem?”

The Brady Campaign contends that the “Fast and Furious” program involved about 2,000 firearms crossing the border into Mexico, about 3 percent of the guns moving from U.S. gun shops to Mexico in the last four years. The center’s Denis Henigan wants House Republicans, the ones chasing Eric Holder, to focus instead upon the other 97 percent of those guns.

See? Republicans are just “playing politics” with this and ignoring the real problem, which is that there are just too gosh darn many guns around in the US. And if there weren’t, then they wouldn’t be finding their way into Mexico. This whole, “you’re just playing politics” theme is echoed even more strongly in an editorial by Chris Hayes, he of rhetorically proximate fame. This whole thing is the Republicans’ fault because we’re living in The Era of Post-truth Politics.

Given what we know about the Republican Party, and the way the House of Representatives conducts itself when run by Republicans and with a Democrat in the White House, it shouldn’t really count as news when a House committee finds the Democratic attorney general in contempt of Congress…

But, alas, conservatives and House Republicans are good at ginning up outrage and their target is the Fast and Furious program, an attempt begun under the Bush administration to track illegal guns as they made their way through the hands of Mexican drug traffickers. The tracking wasn’t very well executed, and at least one of the guns that should have been monitored was used instead to shoot and kill Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. (This horrible tragedy was one of about 30-thousand people killed every year by guns. Somehow we don’t see much outrage and grief from Republicans about those).

This is pretty much a re-run of the Atlantic piece in many ways and seems to be the marching orders handed down from the White House. Here we see the program described as being not very well executed. (Hayes pulls up short of saying, “botched” which I’ve scored as the most common adjective used.) And the only fault by the Obama administration is not realizing that Republicans will never play fair so he should be tougher on them. In fact, as he cites Brian Terry’s death, Hayes barely has time to insert a parenthesis before bringing up how many other people are killed by guns.

Then there’s this gem:

And so, that’s why promoting this implausible conspiracy theory about a secret plot to make gun owners look bad by giving guns to Mexican traffickers is so important to the right and the NRA. It’s why they’ve been flogging Fast and Furious and why the NRA scored the vote on contempt. Since there is no actual case that the President wants to crush gun-rights, they have to make one.Because this is post-truth politics.

The author takes time out of his busy day to mock the idea of F&F being used as a tool to “make gun owners look bad” in the very same article where he uses his media platform to talk about the horrible situation of all these guns in America and gun deaths. The irony is palpable.

The reality is that the fact of 29,999 other gun related deaths does not make the death of Brian Terry one iota less tragic or important. And yes, there is a vast difference between criminals running guns into Mexico and the government doing it. We already know there is a problem with criminals looking to make big profits by running guns across the border and we need to beef up our efforts to curb that activity. We’re not surprised that criminals do this. We are surprised when the government does.

When it comes to Eric Holder and the President, a very old rule applies: the cover-up is almost always worse than the screw-up which led to it. And in terms of our democracy, the former may be more damaging than the latter. But Hayes and Cohen are welcome to keep telling themselves that it’s all dishonest politics and it’s only the Republicans who try to go after Democrats and prosecute them for political gain. I’m pretty sure Scooter Libby wrote something similar in his journal while doing his 400 hours of community service.

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