It has been a jaw-dropping couple of days for reasoned minds tracking the national conversation about what lessons we should draw from the Newtown massacre.
First we had conservative ideologue Charlotte Allen’s bizarre claim that the murder of 20 children and six adults can be traced to the “helpless passivity” that permeates such a “feminized setting.” “Congratulations, National Review: You have published the single most brain dead, idiotic and offensive response to a national tragedy,” is how Salon prefaced its report on Allen’s instantly notorious ramblings. “Noted Asshole Says Sandy Hook Massacre Wouldn’t Have Happened If There Had Been Men Around,” read a headline on Jezebel.
And today, of course, we had the spectacle of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre – the ultimate hired gun – making the case for why there should be a gun in every school. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” was how he put it at this morning’s NRA press conference. (You know another way to stop a guy with a gun? Take away his gun. But I digress.)
LaPierre is not the first to make noises along these lines, and in recent days, I’ve been unable to resist such tantalizing easy pickings. “And I mean, not to over think this or anything, but might it not be a wee bit dangerously confusing to law enforcement when they arrive and see a teacher brandishing a gun? And, oh dear, what about the danger of friendly fire? And — I mean, just because we should consider the possibilities — is there any chance there could be liability issues if a teacher intentionally or inadvertently shoots a student or colleague?” is one typical comment from my Facebook feed.
But you know what? I was wasting my time. Logic isn’t the issue. Not for Charlotte Allen. And not for the NRA. Their goal isn’t to persuade. Their goal is to make money.
On the Internet, provocation pays—just ask, Ann Coulter. The more outrageous your argument, the better your metrics. (And no, that’s not always true. But very often it is.) Is Charlotte Allen delusional or a clever manipulator? It doesn’t really matter: Either way, it pays off for the National Review.
For its part, the NRA is about selling guns. What better way to enhance profits than an arms race in public schools?
There’s one thing that keeps me from slipping into an impotent fury here: A growing sense that such voices are fast becoming victims of their own success.
A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll gives the Second Amendment-brandishing Republican Party only a 30% favorable rating, down significantly since before the presidential election. (In the meantime, the Democratic Party is on the rise.) When asked to give a word or short phrase to describe the GOP, 65% offered a negative comment, including more than half of Republicans. Among the descriptions: “Bad,” “weak,” “negative,” “uncompromising,” “broken,” and “lost.” “Republicans have gone off the image cliff,” Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart is quoted as saying.
Shortly before the November election, Lizzie Skurnick—my brilliant writer friend I’ve never met—humorously chastised Obama supporters for going to such great lengths to identify Romney campaign missteps. “We should be all ‘Heckuva job, Rove!’” she proclaimed, referring to George W. Bush’s post-Katrina plaudits for soon-to-be-disgraced FEMA director Michael D. (“Brownie”) Brown.
Which got me to thinking. The more provocative, confrontational—and yes, crazier—folks like Allen and LaPierre sound, the clearer the line between sensible regulation and sheer lunacy.
Thanks, Charlotte Allen.
You’re making my case way better than I possibly could.
© 2012, amy gutman. All rights reserved.