Observations On A Cruel—But Funny!—Political Joke

“Humorists have been scared out of the business by the touchiness now prevailing in every section of the community. Wherever you look, on every shoulder there is a chip, in every eye a cold glitter warning you, if you know what is good for you, not to start anything.”

—P.G. Wodehouse, 1956

I just saw this Wodehouse quote today (Pointer: Jay Nordlinger on Instapundit), and sure enough, a joke controversy came in through the bathroom window.

The Texas Tribune Festival, an annual gathering of political and media figures in Austin,  included a panel on urban activism. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt complained that the Republicans running the state government opposed any measure on the environment—even, she said, local tree ordinances. Then springing the punch-line following her own set-up, she said, “Governor Abbott hates trees because one fell on him.”

The overwhelmingly Democratic crowd laughed. I did not know, but apparently Texans do, that at 24 Abbot was paralyzed from the waist down , when  a tree blew over on him while he was jogging on a windy day in Houston in 1984.

Predictably, however, there was at least one person who witnessed this who was not amused. John Daniel Davidson, the Political Editor at The Federalist, was on hand, and tweeted the line and the identity of its creator out to his followers. Some Texas legislators and publications picked up on it, Judge Eckhardt was contacted and asked about its appropriateness, and soon she was issuing an apology,…

As usual in such episodes, the apology was not enough.  The Texas Tribune piled on, writing about the comment and adding details about Abbott’s accident. Its conservative readers unanimous condemned the judge, variously calling her apology insincere, vicious, cruel, and mandating her resignation. The attendees who laughed were pronounced equally detestable. The Tribune quoted Travis County Republican Chairman Matt Mackowiak , who went full “How dare you?”:

“Judge Eckhardt apparently believes that his disability is open to ridicule if it helps her make a political argument. This joke represents a profound lack of compassion from Judge Eckhardt. There is no place for insulting Americans with disabilities and Judge Eckhardt should know better.”

Davidson closed his article by pronouncing the incident as a  telling one… Continue reading

On The Anti-Gun “Weapons Of War” Talking Point

I’m moving this essay up in the queue, because while walking my dog in the rain—such rote activities like dog-walking, showering and driving often trigger “right brain” activities and inspirations—it all became clear to me for the first time.

One aspect of the argument being offered by anti-gun zealots following this school shooting that is new compared to Sandy Hook is the sudden popularity of the term “weapons of war.”  it was used multiple times at the very start of the CNN “town hall,” for example. Rep. Deutch:

But, beyond that, the best way for us to show that is to take action in Washington, in Tallahassee, to get these weapons of war off of our streets.

and…

…and the answer to the question is, do I support weapons that fire-off 150 rounds in seven or eight minutes, weapons that are weapons of war that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can, you bet I am.

…and

And that is making sure that we take action to keep our kids and our schools safe and to get dangerous weapons of war off of our streets. That has to be our priority and we’ve got to do it now.

My interest is not whether it is a wise or good thing to ban semi-automatic weapons. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that Maryland’s ban was constitutional, and the Supreme Court, so far, at least, has not chosen to review it. A national ban, however, would certainly require SCOTUS assent, and my guess is that such a law would fail, and as I will continue to explain, should fail.

“Weapons of war” is nowa pejorative phrase designed to make the most popular rifle in America sound as if owning one is perverse. “Weapons of war” suggests not just self-defense, but active combat, and it certainly doesn’t mean hunting deer and rabbits. Following Sandy Hook, a lot of the anti-gun rhetoric, as from New York Governor Cuomo, involved the deceitful (or ignorant) argument that you don’t need a semi-automatic rifle to shoot a deer. This vigorous false narrative is as old as the Left’s anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment movement itself.

Thus  “weapons of war” is now the phrase of choice to persuade moderate, uncommitted citizens considering the gun controversy that it makes no sense to allow citizens to own such weapons. Hunting weapons, sure (at least until there’s a mass shooting in a school using those). A registered handgun to shoot a burglar, a rapist or a home invader?  Fine. But “common sense gun controls” can’t possibly allow citizens to have “weapons of war.”

The problem is that allowing private ownership of weapons of war is exactly what the Founders intended. The Second Amendment was devised to ensure that citizens would  not be disarmed by a government that needed to be overthrown, or, in the alternative, that some citizens wanted to overthrow, but wrongly.

The Founders were, it should not be necessary to say, revolutionaries. They believed that citizens had the right and even the obligation to bring down abusive  governments. Jefferson stated it directly in the Declaration of Independence:

“Prudence … will dictate that Governments long-established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Jefferson was a brilliant man, and no dreamy-eyed idealist. He could not have assumed, feeling the way he did about governments, government power, and the men who come to possess such power, that governments could always be dissolved peacefully. As a prudent and practical man, he was also saying that it is unwise to seek to change a government every time it fails or disappoints, and that long-standing systems deserve the public’s tolerance, patience and forbearance. Government should be a contract of trust, and that when that trust is irreparably broken by abuses of power, the people must have the right, and must have the ability to activate that right, to demand a new form of government.

This is, of course, exactly what the 13 Colonies did. The Constitution they adopted when they began their experiment in democracy naturally and necessarily included a crucial right without which future generations of Americans would not be able to “throw off” a government whose abuse of power had become odious. That was the right to bear arms, embodied in the Second Amendment. The arms one had the right to bear had to be weapons of war, because fighting—civil war, revolution, wars of resistance—was their explicit purpose. Continue reading