Consequentialism rules supreme in Washington, D.C.; that is the tragedy of our political system. If unethical conduct is perceived as having a positive outcome, few in D.C. will continue to condemn the means whereby those beneficial and lauded were achieved. Worse, the results will be seen as validating the tactics, moving them from the category of ethically objectionable into standard practice, and for both political parties
Thus we should all reluctantly cheer the likely demise of the Senate’s gun control bill yesterday. The compromise background check provision that failed wasn’t perfect, but it would have been an improvement over the current system. Nevertheless, the post-Sandy Hook tactics of gun control advocates, including the President and most of the media, have been so misleading, cynical, manipulative and offensive that their tactics needed to be discouraged by the only thing that has real influence in the nation’s Capital: embarrassing failure.
The tainted enterprise begins with the fact that it should not have been a priority at this time at all. Newtown did not signal a crisis; it was one event, and that particular bloody horse had left the barn. The supposedly urgent need to “prevent more Sandy Hooks” was imaginary, but it apparently served the President’s purpose of distracting attention from more genuinely pressing matters, notably the stalled employment situation and the need to find common ground with Republican on deficit and debt reduction. Meanwhile, the conditions in Syria have been deteriorating and North Korea is threatening nuclear war: why, at this time, was the President of the United states acting as if gun control was at the top of his agenda? It was irresponsible, placing political grandstanding above governing. In this context, Obama’s angry words yesterday about the bill’s defeat being caused by “politics” were stunningly hypocritical. The whole effort by his party was about nothing other than politics.
Then we have the President’s own flawed leadership style, which, typically, caused him to support the bill by making public speeches and denigrating the bill’s opponents, rather than doing the hard, presidential work of horse-trading and persuasion. With the budget and immigration reform on the table, seldom has any President had more bargaining chips to work with, but this President disdains bargaining. Indeed, his rhetoric about gun control, which included the suggestion that most Republican don’t care about whether children are shot or not, made his much-ballyhooed “charm offensive” ridiculous. It’s not charming to make nice with adversaries over lunch and then publicly accuse them of heartlessness. But that’s Obama.
On other fronts, the gun control push was, if anything, even more objectionable:
- Measures that had nothing to do with how Adam Lanza armed himself were continually hyped as necessary to “save our children,” by politicians, celebrities, talking heads and columnists. The appeals were aimed at emotion, not fact, reason or rationality, and designed to exploit grief and horror to rush through whatever legislation could be passed on a wave of sentiment.
- Children, the Sandy Hook parents and gun victims like Gabriella Giffords were endlessly exploited and used as props, with Democrats reasoning that sobbing testimony is more valuable than informative testimony. Yes, parents who have lost children to a madman’s gunfire hate guns. So would I under those circumstances, which disqualifies such victims as helpful or analytical resources on the issue. Instead, cynically, they were made the centerpiece of public hearings, even to the extreme of having a brain-damaged ex-Congresswoman shakily mouth programmed testimony that amounted to nothing more illuminating than “guns hurt people.” All of this was shameless, and it never stopped: even yesterday, Democrats packed the Senate gallery with families of the Newton, Aurora and Tuscon shootings.
- The push for gun control tightening was advanced with a reckless disregard for facts, and with no interest at all in genuine public education. Charlie Rangel said that “millions” children were dying from assault weapon fire, an epic exaggeration that, if it was a slip of the tongue, was never corrected. The President wrongly attributed Newtown to a “fully-automatic” weapon, which was false. As The Washington Post pointed out twice, he insisted on using misleading and outdated data, representing it as accurate. Blogger Rick Jones, who comments here, took to his Facebook page to highlight an anti-gun ad trumpeting that PolitiFact’s determination that during the post- Newtown debate, the pro-gun side lied more often than the anti-gun side. Rick reasonably asked why either side should be lying at all.
The Politifact stats are fascinating. Compiling the statements it examined and its assessment of truthfulness, the Tampa Bay Times’ fact-checking site produced this chart:
Given the fact that PolitiFact’s choice of statements to check was selective and incomplete (Rangel’s whopper was not included, for example), the chart’s lumping lies about trivia with lies regarding core issues, and the fact, denied by partisans, but pretty much undeniable, that PolitiFact has a well-documented leftward bias and habitually finds conservative lies more troubling than progressive ones, this chart is not something gun control advocates should be citing with pride. As the side that is advocating change, it has the burden of proof and persuasion: that even by this friendly and sympathetic arbiter’s lights the gun-control forces have told the complete truth less than 20% of the time is damning. “Yes, we lie, but the other side lies worse” is hardly an incentive to trust.
- Gun-control advocates consistently demonstrated their ignorance of guns, and worse, didn’t seem to think it mattered. Even the House sponsor of that body’s gun control bill, Rep. DeGette, showed that she didn’t comprehend how semi-automatic weapons work and what the purpose of her own bill’s ban on “high-capacity magazines” was.
- The anti-gun advocates, including Vice-President Biden, Senator Feinstein and NY Governor Cuomo among others, repeatedly argued in terms of government control of personal choice, telling law-abiding gun-owners that they didn’t “need” powerful weapons to protect themselves. This is offensive and government overreach, as playwright David Mamet memorably asserted in an essay. His message: don’t tell me what I need to keep my family safe. This is the creeping autocracy that has infected the Democrats, and they should be wary of its real and sinister message: if the government can tell you what protection you need, it will soon be telling you how much money you deserve to make, how big a house you can have, and what kind of car to drive.
- The anti-gun forces, including President Obama, repeatedly resorted to vilification of its opposition. Celebrities like Jim Carrey and media figure like Piers Morgan and the MSNBC mob carried this campaign of denigration and disrespect to offensive extremes, which were projected on their elected allies in Washington.
- Perhaps most disturbing of all, the political forces for gun regulation encouraged the news media to abandon its ethical duty of objective reporting to assume the role of a government propaganda arm, and to a great extent, the news media complied. This has long-term consequences, dire ones, for our liberty and system of government, and is, in my view, the single greatest reason we should rejoice that the bill failed.
I should be clear that none of these factors had much to do with the failure of the gun control efforts. In all likelihood, they were doomed from the start. The GOP controlled House was unlikely to allow any bill to go forward, and too many elected officials in both parties allow themselves to be, in essence, bribed by the NRA. (I must add, however, that the high-dudgeon protests about NRA influence from non-NRA supported Democrats is risible, given their own eager acceptance of similar enticements from teachers, unions, trial lawyers and others.)
Still, the high-profile failure of incompetent, dishonest and manipulative tactics can’t hurt, and maybe, just maybe, the next attempt at sensible gun regulations will be more professionally and honorably managed. In Washington, D.C. ethics, this qualifies as progress.