The Political Animal

The Gun Party Crazies


Talking Points Memo has a piece today about how “The White House Just Set Gun Rights Activists Ablaze.”

Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported the gun violence task force led by Vice President Biden is considering gun legislation “far broader and more comprehensive…than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition.”


“[The article] was a Molotov cocktail right into the middle of this thing,” Dave Workman, a former board member at the National Rifle Association, told TPM Monday. “That lit the fuse, it really did.”

It should not be hard to appreciate the nature of hardcore gun regulation opponents when after a wave of mass shootings that included the murder of twenty 5 and 6 year old school children in an elementary school, news that the President might recommend measures “more comprehensive…than simply reinstating an expired ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition” produces the hysteria of “a Molotov cocktail.”

Consider TPM’s go-to guy for the interview. Dave Workman is an board member of the NRA.

He’s an official with the Second Amendment Foundation, communications director for Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and a prolific writer on the gun rights. Both groups Workman serves on are sponsors of Gun Appreciation Day, a nationwide effort to highlight gun ownership scheduled for the weekend of President Obama’s second inauguration.

The SAF opposes gun carry laws and restrictions on the interstate sale of firearms. It is the publisher of The Gun Mag. Workman owns D&D Gunleather, which produces its own publications on issues such as “”No duty to retreat’ or ‘stand your ground’ in a lethal confrontation,” and Workman also writes Seattle Gun Rights Examiner, where he produces pieces such as “Is America tumbling toward ‘Arms-ageddon?’” Pat Buchanan is relied on as authority in that matter.

TPM further quotes Workman as stating,

“They’re talking about banning millions of firearms,” he said. “The writing was on the wall when Joe Biden was put on that thing because he’s a gun grabber.”

Of the President, Workman believes that

the president hates guns and gun owners.

“Obama has been anti-gun rights along, he was just waiting for his second term to push this stuff,” Workman said. “Unfortunately, Sandy Hook timed pretty perfectly with the start of this second term. … This nutball really handed this one to the Obama administration and gave the Obama administration a chance to take the gloves off.”

Does this kind of language, this unhinged sense of secret malevolence in Obama sound familiar? Undoubtedly, there is great crossover among Tea Partiers – the contemporary remanifestation of The John Birch Society – and extreme gun advocates.  Yet while sensible and liberal Americans think they experienced some measure of triumph over these extremists in the November election, conspiratorial gun absolutists present a profound case of the fringe holding powerful sway over American culture and society. Any political battle to institute common sense safety-oriented gun regulation in the country will be as intense as any we have seen, and it will require enormous passion and commitment to win.


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The Political Animal

Preventing Romney: Mediating the Laughter and the Lies


The challenge for supporters of Barack Obama, tonight and after, is to mediate the media’s mediation of reality. Mediating the mediation: in politics that’s called “spin.” Spin is a conceptually sexy, pop-cultural term for influence. It is a method of persuasion. But as the nature of the expression suggests in its physical metaphor, it is superficial, acting on the exterior body rather than the interior being. Spin – like the earth on its axis. Don’t necessarily transform the deep understanding; just grab the body by the arm and turn it in another direction.

In this picture, though, the body is the whole argument, both sides of it – the presentation of it. By the media. In all the now common reference to spin as if it were the weather – just part of politics, like a convention – what is too little acknowledged by the media is that what is really being spun is the media. Reporters and analysts pretend to stand back and in rather blasé fashion cursorily acknowledge the pol spin activity as if they, the journalists, are immune to it and it is really being directed at us, the receivers of mediation.

The media doesn’t get it.

A standard story line of the news media, particularly over the span of the Obama administration, has been the break down in our governance due to extreme partisanship and consequent popular contempt for elected officials by those who elect them. This is one element of the news media’s false equivalency “objectivity.”

“Both sides do it.”

Well, you know, everybody eats, too. Everybody doesn’t eat as much.

The news media is far less observant of its own break down in its own civic role. Even news organizations’ own occasional, self-congratulatory coverage, in apparent self-examination of its own failures, occurs in brief and superficial segments that function as a sop to critics and the challenges of conscience. The same failures are reenacted. The failure of large segments of the journalistic world to adequately understand fundamental concepts of their own profession makes all this unsurprising. Significant numbers of journalists believe objectivity means not attempting to mediate between truth and falsity. Such a notion seriously mistakes any meaningful, coherent definition of objectivity, is – many journalists would no doubt be surprised to recognize – essentially relativistic, and actually makes the journalist uniquely susceptible to – spin. To be the handmaiden of spin is precisely the outcome of believing not that objectivity is the position of truth, but of independence from critical thinking, an empty passivity of mind.

We just report – stenographers, digital recorders, auto-cams rotating back and forth between he said and she said.

Raise the issue of truth with the mentally lazy or inadequate-to-the-task and you will immediately hear of its difficulty. What is the truth, they’ll cry. How can we know the truth?

How can we get up in the morning? First, one leg…. Work at it.

Every opinion is “just an opinion” is the mental state of the untrained mind. All persuasion is not the same. There are good, sound arguments, and there is spin. There is Socrates and there is sophistry.

The major spin to come out of the Vice-Presidential debate is the subject of Joe Biden’s laughter, his smiles and scornful reactions to Paul Ryan – his “rudeness.”

A truth is that there is meaningful consideration to be given to the effect of Biden’s manner. It is not reporting or analysis to ignore human nature, behavior and responsiveness. Biden’s demeanor did displease some who were not simply GOP partisans. But the far greater effrontery of a lie can be masked by a calm, quiet demeanor. The scornful laugh in response is there for all to see, and all that will be seen by those who cannot recognize the lie. Whose task is it, then, to reveal the lie and then consider the lie and the reaction to it as a whole? To weigh them in significance?

What deserves our lasting attention, the superficially apparent rudeness of “disrespectful” facial reactions – should one show respect to a lie? – or the rudeness of bald-faced lying to the people over whom a candidate seeks to exercise power? What is worse – rolling eyes or claiming the employment rate is going up when it is going down? What is worse – hands thrown up to the sky in feigned disbelief or claiming Social Security is threatened with insolvency when it is not? What is worse, the apparent disrespect of behavior purposefully directed at discrediting an argument and its author or a candidacy generally acknowledged since its inception and repeatedly established and acknowledged to be dissembling and dishonest? That the conservative mouthpieces and right wing bloggers have talked about Biden’s behavior for a week was to be expected. That the news media permit that discussion to become the defining characteristic of the event – with Biden’s superior argumentation second – was not a requirement. The news media got spun. And because the media generally accept the world of spin, live within it and on its rotating surface, they do not feel its effect on them.

The mass news media believes it is transparently mediating the delivery of reality to its audience. Increasingly, however, the reality it purports to deliver is the Potemkin village of its own mediation. If the most dishonest campaign ever waged for the Presidency succeeds, it will be in very large part because of the failure of the American journalistic establishment.

The challenge for those who seek to prevent this outcome is to mediate the media’s mediation – to serve as a corrective lens that refocuses everyone’s perception from the process and the game, of politics and journalism, that political reporters love so much, to something a little closer to the truth.


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The Political Animal

I Apologize


Jonah Lehrer has apologized to his readers for manufacturing quotations in his latest book, to Michael Moynihan for lying about it, and to himself for self-plagiarizing his blog posts for The New Yorker. Fareed Zakaria has apologized to Time and CNN for plagiarizing a paragraph of an article from Jill Lepore at the New Yorker. The Washington Post has apologized to Zakaria for claiming he also plagiarized from a book by Clyde V. Prestowitz when, apparently, he did not. Clyde V. Prestowitz has apologized to Zakaria, too. Zakaria has not apologized to Jeffrey Goldberg for stealing quotations from him. He says it is standard practice. Goldberg says it is not as standard as Zakaria says it is, it should not be done, and Goldberg makes no apologies for believing so. Jill Lepore could not be reached for comment, perhaps because she has nothing to apologize for, but just you wait.

Touré, co-host of MSNBC’s The Cycle, has apologized for saying that Mitt Romney, by using the code word “angry” to describe the campaign of President Obama, who, you may have noticed is a black man – and if you haven’t noticed, you should apologize (or maybe you should apologize if you have) – is engaging in the “niggerization” of the President. Said Touré, “I could’ve made the same point without that word.” The same point would be – feel free to correct me if I am wrong, in which case, I apologize – that Mitt Romney was engaging in the niggerization of the President, only “niggerization” is the kind of word that if you use it leads scores of conservative politicians and political pundits who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about black people – are actually actively working to deny scores of thousands of them their right to vote, in the manner of Jim Crow laws back in what they call “the day” (for which the nation has never precisely apologized, but about which it has appeared to be kind of sorry, until some people start trying to do kind of, you know, the same thing again) – to feel mightily offended and calling for an apology, which leads some other people, Touré among them, to make apologies they do not really mean. But at least they offer their apology. Similarly, I apologize for using public bathrooms and never actually taking a bath in one of them.

Seth Karpinsky apologizes to Mary Lou Bettenheimer for staring at the curve of her pale young breast through the crease her blouse made when the top button became unbuttoned one day in chemistry class. I apologize to Mrs. Goldshmidt for extending my middle finger to her in the fourth grade when she asked me why I was not doing the day’s writing assignment. It is true that the middle finger of my right hand was broken and in a cast, but all things considered and under the circumstances, I should have given her the thumbs up. I did not appreciate the visit to the vice-principal’s office and the salmon card, no. MY FINGER WAS BROKEN.

The Boston Globe, completely succumbing to the mindless drivel that passes for political discourse in this country, and the coverage of it by people who call themselves journalists, who, in this instance should never be permitted to opine again on such matters in this lifetime, has called on Vice-President Biden to – that’s right – apologize for saying before a largely black audience, of the GOP efforts to loosen bank regulations, that “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” According to the Globe,

But imagine if Republican Paul Ryan uttered comments like that. Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president would be pilloried for racial insensitivity — and so would Romney.

Ah, but you see – and this where it gets tricky and complicated, sort of like declaring that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter – it isn’t President Obama, and Joey B. and the Democrats who want to loosen bank regulations so that predatory banks can prey on the black poor again the way they did in the lead up to the 2008 fiscal meltdown. It isn’t the Democrats who are trying to deprive hundreds of thousands of black people of their right to vote. It isn’t the Democrats who are hostile to the NAACP or who jump at the chance when someone like Treyvon Martin is killed to blame him – unarmed and walking back home – for his own death, and for looking dangerous, and having, wouldn’t you know, smoked some weed.

It isn’t that Romney and Ryan would be guilty of “racial insensitivity” if they made the same remark about, say, Biden. It is that they would be wrong.

And what is the racial insensitivity anyway? One cannot say the word “chains” in front of black people? One cannot make any comment that might invoke the history of slavery in front of black people? They can’t take it? It isn’t the history that was an abomination, but words that refer to it that are unspeakable, like not wishing to speak a dead child’s name in front of a still grieving mother? What kind of blithering inanity is this passing for notions of sensitivity and decorum and for wrong requiring apology?

“Journalists” like the editorial writers at the Globe, who no longer entertain any critical notion of demonstrable right and wrong, but for whom all sides are equally only sides, like taters and onion rings, call on the Vice President of the United States to apologize for hyperbolically and colorfully (oops!) but rightly suggesting that the policies of the Republican Party are enemy to the civil and human rights of black people – but utter no such call to Mitt Romney for engaging in a simply unprecedented campaign of mendacity in pursuit of the presidency of the United States? How many journalism degrees did it take to sink to this low of mindless triviality?

I think – hear me now – The Boston Globe should apologize to Joe Biden for calling on him to apologize to, well, it seems the Globe did not quite say to whom it is Biden should apologize. Just – apologize. Stand under those heavens we all offend daily, raise arms – why don’t we all do it now? – and raise voice and apologize for all our sins and transgressions, cardinal, venal, and cravenly, stupidly political.

Or conversely, as Colonel Dax responded to General Broulard,

I apologize… for not being entirely honest with you. I apologize for not revealing my true feelings. I apologize, sir, for not telling you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man. And you can go to hell before I apologize to you now or ever again!

Does that seem a little much? Oh, well, in that case… you know…


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