How the Democrats Flubbed San Bernardino
Has there ever been a better example of liberal overreach than the coverage that followed the shooting in San Bernardino? It started in the immediate aftermath of the attack with Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, who said: “Yo GOP, kinda hard to talk about ‘keeping people safe’ when your peeps are shooting up America,” and the numerous attempts at “prayer shaming” anyone who offered their “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of the horrific event.
Without waiting to learn the actual facts (which turned out to be that the assailants were radicalized Muslims), Moulitsas didn’t just assume the shooters were Republicans; he also sought to score shameless political points.
Usually a rather marginal figure, Moulitsas set the tone for the next few days. Comparisons between the NRA and ISIS abounded, and the ubiquity of the “prayer shaming” that took place makes one wonder whether this wasn’t some sort of coordinated effort. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal, for example, both quickly echoed the “God isn’t fixing this” musings of left-leaning media elites.
But at the very least, it was all a prime example of the kind of groupthink that exists among—not just the Left—but also a certain set of young “mainstream” media types. The New York Daily News took that line of thought to its natural end point Saturday night when it published an op-ed that blamed one of the shooting victims for his own fate. His offense? Being a conservative “Born Again Christian/Messianic Jew” and a supporter of the NRA.
As usual, though, it’s not the most egregious examples that are the most troubling to me (actually, it’s helpful when people who hold such intolerant views “out” themselves). Instead, it is the insidious things—the media’s subtle assumptions and premises—that matter most when it comes to framing events. In this regard, it is worth noting that, in the wake of the shooting, the topic of conversation in the media immediately and almost universally turned to gun control. Sadly, in his Oval Office address Sunday night, President Obama reiterated these calls for more gun control, a divisive and cynical attempt to score political points that would do nothing to prevent the kind attack we saw last week.
But I want to go back to the moments and hours that directly followed the San Bernardino shooting, because I think the immediate response of Democratic politicians and media liberals was very telling.
Based on what we knew at the time, we could have legitimately had the following conversations—and asked the following questions:
1. Perhaps this was the work of a radical Islamist. In that case, it might have spawned numerous questions. For example, what are we doing to prevent homegrown terrorism from spreading? If the Internet or cellphones were used to orchestrate the shooting, should we rethink some of the changes we made to the Patriot Act? Should we do a better job of keeping an eye on Americans who visit places like Saudi Arabia? Are we creating a politically correct environment where other Americans are afraid to report potentially problematic signs they see in neighbors and colleagues, for fear of being called a racist? And, lastly, should this impact whether or not we accept Syrian refugees?
2. Maybe this was the work of a mentally unstable person who was also a disgruntled employee. Perhaps we should consider making it easier to institutionalize such people? This means we must grapple with questions regarding civil liberties versus safety. But maybe enough is enough?
3. Maybe our culture is glamorizing violence and incentivizing killers. Could it be that our movies and video games, while fine for the vast majority of Americans, might push some vulnerable people over the edge (you know, the way the rhetoric surrounding Planned Parenthood allegedly inspired that tragic shooting in Colorado)? Or could it be that the fame and glamorization we give to killers (see the glamour shot of a Boston Bomber on the cover of Rolling Stone) is a factor?
4. Maybe gun control is the answer. Could it be that making it harder for people to obtain guns would prevent such attacks?
Considering we were (in the hours immediately following the shooting) engaged in pure speculation, these are just four legitimate directions we could have gone, in terms of having a national conversation about what just occurred.
Guess which one the media immediately and almost unanimously seized on?
Why was this telling example of political bias especially problematic? Aside from the fact that getting to the truth matters, talk of gun control naturally puts Republicans on the defensive. Most issues have built-in skews. And if gun control comes up—pretty much no matter what is said—conservatives are presented with a lose/lose proposition.
This isn’t because defending the Second Amendment is bad policy, per se. It’s because Americans (and possibly humans) have an instinctive bias toward action. We see a problem, and we want to do something—anything—to fix it.
It does not matter that “common sense” gun control wouldn’t prevent the attack, or that gun control might usurp our Constitutional rights. Something horrible happened, and damn it, something needs to be done!
I suppose we should concede the obvious, which is that (while we still don’t know all the details) it looks like Islamist radicalization was probably the most important factor here. The fact that the guns used were purchased legally doesn’t seem to matter much when you consider that a) the shooters also had a dozen pipe bombs they could have used instead, b) although the guns were purchased legally, they were purchased by someone else, and c) California already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation—-and no new national law that could ever conceivably pass would exceed the provisions already on the books in California.
Nevertheless, in the immediate wake of this shooting, it seemed to be universally understood amongst the numerous journalist-types I follow on Twitter that something had to be done, that that something had to be gun control, and that if you didn’t agree, you were a troglodyte. This rush to do something, anything, quickly found Democrats cynically embracing and looking to expand the notoriously flawed no-fly and terror watch lists, long a bête noire for civil libertarians on both the right and left—a policy Obama himself is aggressively now pushing for.
Meanwhile, if you mentioned mental health—or, God forbid, if you mentioned that you were keeping the victims in your “thoughts and prayers”—you were attacked (in some cases, rather aggressively) as a hack who was spouting mysticism and/or didn’t care if people died. Remember, all “decent” people want more gun control, according to a plodding New York Times front-page editorial on Saturday that seemed only interested in preaching to the converted.
Guess what? The truth is that sincere conservatives—those of us who have never received a dime from the NRA, for example—honestly do not believe that gun control will do anything to stem gun violence. Instead, we fear that it will make our families less able to defend themselves, and slowly chip away at our Constitutional rights, which—unlike so many of the “rights” that we have made up in recent years—is actually found in the Bill of Rights.
But regardless of how you feel about gun control, it should be recognized how politically maladroit the left’s response was to San Bernardino. Faced with an enemy that confuses them and that they lack a clear agenda for confronting, many liberals retreated deep into the bubble before stumbling into a battle over gun control they were sure to lose. It was a shocking stumble, and one that should have all progressives nervous about their ability to hold onto power after Obama leaves office.
Matt Lewis is author of the forthcoming book Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots).