Among the moon-howling reactions to the president’s surprisingly bold gun-control proposals on the right, the one that most struck me was the boiling indignation that he had the temerity to speak of, and surround himself with, school children. Rush Limbaugh led the way as usual: “He’s using these kids as human shields ... He brings these kids who supposedly wrote letters to the White House ...” And so on. It was a shocking rant, even for that flatulent pile of gelatin, and amazingly out of touch with how the country feels about what happened in Newtown, and what is happening in our political culture generally. And it made me realize: they’re going to lose. Their excess outrages America, and even if they prevail for the time being in Congress, in the long run, they’re cooked.
The president surrounded himself with children? One has to be sensitive about how one does such things, of course. But in this case, I should hope so! This is about children. If those 20 children in Newtown hadn’t been killed, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. An event like that leads to a simple choice for a society, and make no mistake that it is a moral choice, as profoundly moral a choice as a society can make. Either you try to do something or you don’t.
If those lives were real to you, you try to do something. Obama keeps that one girl’s drawing up on the wall of his private office? Thank God for that. She is real to him; her classmates are real to him, the event is real to him. That he is trying to do all this—up to and including the assault-weapons ban, the executive orders, all with the sure knowledge that the Republicans might not only block him but then find some grounds on which to impeach him—is evidence enough for me that it’s real to him.
It’s Limbaugh and the NRA and all the crazies for whom the shooting and the dead children are just symbols. First of all, the very phrase “human shields.” What, were the children at the White House today ordered to be there? (I know, these people would say—with no evidence, of course—that they were.) The phrase also implicitly compares Obama to al Qaeda and Hamas—and, once again, to Adolf Hitler, something of a pioneer in the human-shield trade. No one who cared about actual history would use that phrase in this context. That phrase is used solely in the service of propaganda and ideology.
What is amazing here is how much they don’t care about dead children or about America’s outrage at this state of affairs, and how openly and brazenly they want to show us they don’t care. Newtown is nothing to them. Just another occasion to inveigh against know-it-all liberals and whine about their freedom and make patently insane comments about Obama and the Constitution. To increase the membership rolls, raise money, make money.
If this ghastly event couldn’t get them to sit down and try to be constructive, what could? Here’s a thought experiment. Try to think of an event—any national event—that would make these people on the right wing, Limbaugh and Fox and the others, break form; that would make them take stock, take a step back, stop banging on the war drums, and say: “Hey, OK. Let’s cool it here. We’re all Americans.”
We can rule out a dramatic terrorist attack on our country. We can rule out the wholesale slaughter of innocents. We’ve lived through those, and the howlers only got worse. So, name one. What? The assassination of a president? Please. If a Republican, they’d immediately start in on how the liberals or the gays are to blame. If a Democrat, they’d immediately start in on how the liberals and the gays have no one to blame but themselves. A moment of national unity is impossible with these people; a moment of plain decency impossible.
Obama knows he might lose this fight. He said as much at his press conference when he said that victory against the NRA was going to depend on a huge coalition and outcry, full of unexpected people and voices. That will be needed, and even that may not win.
But if the good guys lose now, the bad guys are still going to lose in the long run. Once upon a time, in Ronald Reagan’s day, in the age of liberal excess, conservatives tapped into and expressed Americans’ anger at liberalism. I suppose that’s what they still think they’re doing. But Americans are now angry at them. Americans are sick of them. Let them block proposals that 60 percent (at least) of Americans want and be the reason the United States did nothing after 20 little children were slaughtered. If that’s conservatism, it’s a conservatism that doesn’t have long to live.