During the Ethics Alarms debates on various threads here about the response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the ever-reasonable commenter Ampersand wrote,
“I think that if you want a responsible discourse, you should seek out intelligent opposition and highlight it, rather than exclusively highlighting what you see as stupid and unethical opposition.”
I agree that this is usually a good course. The current public policy debate, however, isn’t being led or dominated by intelligent opposition to gun possession, but by emotion-driven, often hateful and hysterical diatribes from activists, demagogues and journalists who have decided that this, of all issues, is one that excuses them of their ethical obligation to be objective and to give views they don’t agree with due respect and fair analysis. Thus it is important to highlight the worst examples of these, not only because they are the most blatantly unethical (“Ethics Alarms,” you know) but also because it is dangerous to allow them to slant the discussion without calling attention to what’s wrong with them.
This brings us to the recent rant of Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul. Kaul is an extreme progressive, which is hunky dory, and he is respected as a serious commentator from that side of the ideological spectrum. He also writes for a newspaper with a tradition of serious and professional reporting. He is not Dave Barry, Chris Rock, Ann Coulter or even Lawrence O’Donnell: he is not a jester, a performance artist, or a shameless firebrand. Many reasonable people take what he says t0 heart.
Thus it is worthy of note that such a professional opinion journalist believes that it is appropriate to write a column that says things like this:
“The thing missing from the debate so far is anger — anger that we live in a society where something like the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre can happen and our main concern is not offending the NRA’s sensibilities. That’s obscene. Here, then, is my “madder-than-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” program for ending gun violence in America:
- Declare the NRA a terrorist organization and make membership illegal. Hey! We did it to the Communist Party, and the NRA has led to the deaths of more of us than American Commies ever did. (I would also raze the organization’s headquarters, clear the rubble and salt the earth, but that’s optional.) Make ownership of unlicensed assault rifles a felony. If some people refused to give up their guns, that “prying the guns from their cold, dead hands” thing works for me.
- Then I would tie Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, our esteemed Republican leaders, to the back of a Chevy pickup truck and drag them around a parking lot until they saw the light on gun control.
And if that didn’t work, I’d adopt radical measures…
Don’t tell me Kaul gets a pass because he mixes obvious hyperbole in with his less outrageous statements. That makes it worse. Which is what he believes, and which is tongue-in-cheek? When suggesting physical abuse to elected officials, you had better be crystal clear, and Kaul isn’t.
During the aftermath of Congresswomen Giffords’ shooting in Tucson, the Left and its media lackeys were in full attack over supposed “eliminationist rhetoric” from conservatives that, they claimed, drove the assassin (who wasn’t politically motivated at all, as far as we’ve been able to tell) to deadly violence. It was a cynical, dishonest, censorious strategy by liberals and Democrats to muzzle criticism and even vivid metaphor and rhetoric, but the purveyors of it were focusing on nonsense like little gunsight graphics over vulnerable Democrats running for re-election on a Sarah Palin website campaign map. I defended Palin and others against those attacks, bu I couldn’t and wouldn’t have defended against criticism of “eliminationist rhetoric” that reached the depths of, say, Charles Krauthammer telling his readers that he “would tie Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to the back of a Chevy pickup truck and drag them around a parking lot until they saw the light on entitlement reforms.”
This kind of uncivil, vicious hate-mongering poisons the well of intelligent and productive debate. Kaul’s editor was irresponsible not to have killed it, and the Register was irresponsible to print it. It is unethical opinion journalism, unprofessional column writing, an abuse of Kaul’s position and power as a columnist, and a disgrace to the paper. It is impossible to achieve compromise, consensus, or coherent solutions to difficult and complex problems when either side gives in to passion and resorts to threats and vilification.
Unless those seeking tougher and more effective gun regulations, and not just gun advocates or mediators like me, condemn the tactics of their unethical allies like Kaul and Piers Morgan, they will only see more intransigent and angrier opposition, ensuring a more difficult road to the objectives they seek.
Source: Des Moines Register
Graphic: Straight North