Anderson Cooper's town hall: We liberals have a very hard time observing a basic part of our world.
We can't see how authentically dumb our "intellectual leaders" are. For that reason, we're unable to see the world our own tribe's dumbness hath enabled and wrought.
This afternoon, we'll start exploring that dumbness as it affects the ongoing White House race, which Candidate Trump could very well win. For now, let's consider the gruesome "town hall" Anderson Cooper conducted last Thursday night.
The event occurred on CNN, with Barack Obama condemned to the role of Cooper's guest of honor. It was one of the dumbest, most dispiriting events we've ever seen on "cable news."
The liberal world hasn't uttered a peep about this terrible, awful event. But then, we have spent the past thirty years enabling such corporate dumbness.
What made that town hall meeting so dumb? In part, the dumbness stemmed from the pitiful way CNN assembled its list of celebrity questioners. Perhaps in even larger part, the dumbness stemmed from Cooper's brain-numbing behavior, in which he nitpicked every word from Obama's mouth without directed a word of critique toward the puzzling questions from his celebrity guests.
More on both those problems below. Let's start with a very basic conceptual point which Obama kept trying to explain.
In theory, CNN had assembled its celebrity guests to discuss gun control/gun safety issues. They came from every walk of life—though it helped if they were astronauts, or if they had been portrayed in recent biopics.
Routinely, their questions made little sense; Cooper agreed not to notice. But in the course of all the confusion, Obama tried to explain a very basic point.
Obama's explanation came in response to a braindead question from Cooper. This exchange occurred early on, before the celebrity questioners started:
COOPER (1/7/16): But what you're proposing, what you proposed this week, the executive actions, the other things, are they really going to be effective? And I ask this because the vast majority of felons out there—I mean, we can all agree, criminals should not get guns. We want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. The vast majority of criminals get their guns from—either illegally or for family or friends. So background checks is not something that's going to affect them, is it?In that exchange, Cooper was advancing the world's dumbest possible complaint.
OBAMA: Well, but that's not exactly accurate. Look—
First of all, it's important for everybody to understand what I've proposed and what I haven't proposed. What I've said consistently throughout my presidency is, I respect the Second Amendment, I respect the right to bear arms. I respect people who want a gun for self-protection, for hunting, for sportsmanship.
But all of us can agree that it makes sense to do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of people who would try to do others harm or to do themselves harm, because every year we're losing 30,000 people to gun violence. Two-thirds of those are actually suicides. Hundreds of kids under the age of 18 are being shot or shooting themselves, often by accident, many of them under the age of 5.
And so if we can combine gun safety with sensible background checks and some other steps, we're not going to eliminate gun violence, but we will lessen it. And if we take that number from 30,000 down to, let's say, 28,000, that's 2,000 families who don't have to go through what the families at Newtown or San Bernardino or Charleston went through.
It's true! Obama's executive actions won't eliminate all gun deaths, or even most gun deaths. To a fellow like Cooper, this somehow suggests that Obama's actions "aren't really going to be effective."
Obama tried to explain. He isn't trying to eliminate gun deaths; he's hoping to lessen their occurrence. In his attempt to explain, he even offered some modest numbers:
If we can reduce gun deaths by 2000 a year, that will mean that 2000 fewer families will be wracked by the pain which follows such an occurrence! Or so Obama said, performing some advanced math.
This is a very basic point. We aren't trying to eliminate gun deaths; we're trying to lessen their number. That said, trying to explain such a point to a journalist like Cooper is like speaking Olde Englishe to your canary:
Your bird simply won't understand.
In many ways, the entire evening developed out of this basic point of basic incomprehension. Obama was making proposals designed to lessen gun deaths. In utter puzzlement, Cooper's hand-picked celebrity questioners twisted their heads at this puzzling idea like the famous old RCA Victor dog.
The proposals won't stop all deaths, they complained. So really, why should we bother?
As senseless questions came at Obama, Cooper kept failing to notice. He kept nitpicking Obama's statements; he never once attempted to challenge, critique or clarify the puzzling presentations by his hand-picked biopic stars.
How senseless were the questions this night? The first question came from Taya Kyle, who was portrayed last year in the film, American Sniper.
Kyle was completely courteous and respectful toward Obama. Still, her question came in the form of an endless, three-minute speech—a speech that didn't make much apparent sense.
With apologies, we thought you should see the entire "question," in which Kyle almost seemed to propose repealing the laws against murder. Here's what happens when CNN organizes a celebrified "town hall meeting:"
COOPER: I want you to meet Taya Kyle. She's the widow of Chris Kyle, former Navy SEAL, author of American Sniper. Taya wrote a book, American Life: A Memoir of Love, War, Faith and Renewal.The "question" went on for three minutes. In the end, it's hard to discern what the "question" actually was.
Taya, we're happy you're here. What do you want to ask the president?
KYLE: I appreciate you taking the time to come here. And I think that your message of hope is something I agree with. And I think it's great. And I think that by creating new laws, you do give people hope.
The thing is that the laws that we create don't stop these horrific things from happening, right? And that's a very tough pill to swallow.
We want to think that we can make a law and people will follow it. By the very nature of their crime, they're not following it. By the very nature of looking at the people who hurt our loved ones here, I don't know that any of them would have been stopped by the background check. And yet, I crave that desire for hope, too.
And so I think part of it, we have to recognize that we cannot outlaw murder because people who are murdering, right, are—they're breaking the law, but they also don't have a moral code that we have. And so they could do the same amount of damage with a pipe bomb. The problem is that they want to murder. And I'm wondering why it wouldn't be a better use of our time to give people hope in a different way, to say, "You know what? We—"
Well first of all, actually, let me back up to that. Because with the laws, I know that at least, last I heard, the federal prosecution of gun crimes was like 40 percent. And what I mean by that is that there are people lying on these forms already and we're not prosecuting them. So there's an issue there, right?
But instead, if we can give people hope and say also during this time while you've been president we are at the lowest murder rate in our country—all-time low murders. We're at an all-time high of gun ownership, right?
I'm not necessarily saying the two are correlated, but what I'm saying is that we're at an all-time low for murder rate. That's a big deal. And yet I think most of us in this country feel like it could happen at any moment. It could happen to any of us at any time.
And I'm almost finished. Just when—
When you talk about the NRA, and after a mass shooting that gun sales go up, I would argue that it's not necessarily that I think somebody's going to come take my gun from me, but I want the hope—and the hope that I have the right to protect myself; that I don't end up to be one of these families; that I have the freedom to carry whatever weapon I feel I need, just like your wife said on that farm. You know, I don't—the sheriff's aren't going to get to my house either.
And I understand that background checks aren't necessarily going to stop me from getting a gun, but I also know that they wouldn't have stopped any of the people here in this room from killing. And so it seems like almost a false sense of hope.
So why not celebrate where we are? I guess that's my real question, is—
Celebrate that we're good people, and 99.9 percent of us are never going to kill anyone.
Kyle seemed to know that no one is "going to come take my gun from me," a point Obama had already explained. Despite this fact, she said she wants "the hope that I have the right to protect myself, that I have the freedom to carry whatever weapon I feel I need."
Might background checks keep someone with criminal motives or mental illness from obtaining a gun? Kyle seemed to say the answer was yes—but they could do just as much damage with a pipe bomb!
By the time Kyle was done, she almost seemed to have created an argument against having any laws at all. Why should we even bother having laws against murder? After all, "we have to recognize that we cannot outlaw murder, because people who are murdering...don't have a moral code that we have."
In Kyle's rambling, formless speech, we see a basic problem with "town hall meetings" of the kind CNN created. Rather plainly, Kyle was chosen for her celebrity and for her attractiveness, not for her clarity or for her ability to articulate a clear point concerning gun laws.
This problem dogged the entire evening. Celebrity questioners posed puzzling queries, queries Obama tried to address. But Cooper never made any attempt to clarify, critique or challenge what his celebrity guests had said. Instead, he yipped and yapped at Obama's heels, endlessly nitpicking at the statements in which Obama struggled to reply to incoherent "questions."
How did Obama reply to Kyle? After agreeing with some of her points, he once again tried to explain:
OBAMA: I think the most important point I want to make is that you will be able to purchase a firearm. Some criminals will get their hands on firearms even if there's a background check. Somebody may lie on a form. Somebody will intend to commit a crime, but they don't have a record that shows up on the background check system.We are trying to lessen gun deaths. In the context of a celebrity town hall meeting supervised by a celebrity host, this is like explaining quantum physics to aardvarks.
But in the same way that we don't eliminate all traffic accidents, but over the course of 20 years, traffic accidents got lower. There's still tragedies. There's still drunk drivers. There's still people who don't wear their seat belts. But over time, that violence was reduced, and so families are spared.
Cooper now called on a celebrity victim of a heinous assault. She brought a ton of pathos to the proceedings, without a hint of clarity:
COOPER: I think one question a lot of people have about you is, do you believe the fundamental notion that a good guy with a gun, or a good woman with a gun, is an important bulwark against a bad person with a gun?Speaking for "a lot of people," Cooper threw a question at Obama, then told him not to answer. On came Corban, who seemed to think that Obama is "making it harder for me to own a gun, or harder for me to take that where I need to be."
And before you answer, I want you to meet Kimberly Corban. Kimberly was a college student in Colorado in 2006. Kimberly's right over there. She was raped by a man who broke into her apartment.
She testified for three hours in the trial against him. Her attacker was sentenced to 24 years to life in prison, and I know that attack, Kimberly, changed your view of handguns. What's your question for the president?
CORBAN: Absolutely. As a survivor of rape, and now a mother to two small children—you know, it seems like being able to purchase a firearm of my choosing, and being able to carry that wherever me and my family are, it seems like my basic responsibility as a parent at this point.
I have been unspeakably victimized once already, and I refuse to let that happen again to myself or my kids. So why can't your administration see that these restrictions that you're putting to make it harder for me to own a gun, or harder for me to take that where I need to be, is actually just making my kids and I less safe?
What did Corban mean by those statements? Cooper didn't ask. He earns his millions through pathos and bathos, not through clarification.
In his response, Obama decided to repeat himself yet again:
"I just want to repeat that there's nothing that we've proposed that would make it harder for you to purchase a firearm. Now, you may be referring to issues like concealed carry, but those tend to be state-by-state decisions, and we're not making any proposals with respect to what states are doing. They can make their own decisions there."
Already, it was clear—it was going to be a long evening. Cooper and his corporate owners had assembled a team of celebrity questioners. But the questions they were asking were shedding very little light, and Cooper refused to critique the fuzzy thinking of his celebrity guests.
His third guest asked a simple, clear question, though she had celebrity status too. For the fourth and sixth questions, he turned back to apparent opponents of Obama's proposals.
Question 4 came from Sheriff Paul Babeu, a Fox News Channel celebrity sheriff who is now running for Congress. With the help of the ever-helpful Cooper, Babeu wanted to know how Obama was going to eliminate all crime on the planet, especially mass shootings and terrorist attacks.
In the absence of such transformation, really, what was the point?
Question 6 came from a licensed gun dealer. He said he performs background checks every day, but seemed annoyed at the idea that other sellers of guns should have to apply background checks.
He suggested over things we should do instead. He didn't explain why we might not go ahead and do both.
None of these questions made a lot of clear sense. Cooper, who had selected the questioners, seemed unable to see this.
He kept nitpicking Obama's attempts to respond to the world's dumbest assortment of questions. He never challenged the logic of the people he had assembled to perform his "town hall."
Cooper's performance was dreadful throughout. Beyond the problems already noted, he had assembled a lineup of questioners which seemed to define this debate as a war between two tribes, with urban blacks from Chicago opposing conservative whites.
From the CNN lineup of questioners, you might have thought that all gun deaths in the United States occur in Chicago proper. Only one questioner was brought on to interrupt this unfortunate casting—and he was a celebrity astronaut with a former congresswoman wife.
This was one of the dumbest, most dispiriting events we've ever seen on TV. In our view, the selection of questions was bad; Cooper's performance was worse. On the brighter side, he seemed to be siding with incoherent conservative critics of Obama's proposals, which went largely unexplained.
This may help Cooper expand his conservative viewership. Maybe he'll get a raise!
This was one of the dumbest such programs we've ever seen on TV. Cooper and CNN aren't part of the emerging liberal/progressive world, of course. But the liberal/progressive world has rarely made any serious attempt to identify and reject the dumbness that now suffuses our national discourse.
Quite to the contrary! On MSNBC, our liberal channel had counterprogrammed Cooper's town hall in the dumbest possible manner. The channel aired 42 consecutive minutes of a speech by Candidate Trump, without commercial breaks, presumably trying to keep eyeballs from wandering to Obama on the corporate competitor.
The dumbness of this awful event is squarely on Anderson Cooper. There is no reason to replace journalistic questioning with a town hall if you're going to arrange for a lineup of questions like these—and if you plan to find no fault with hazy, unhelpful questions.
The polarization of our politics was on display in those puzzling questions. Meanwhile, here was Cooper, speaking with Don Lemon after the event:
COOPER (1/7/16): Those who disagreed with the president, you know, it's easy to sit at home and yell at the screen.Plainly, that is the dumbest man in the world—a man who's professionally oblivious, a man who's paid millions of dollars to kiss appropriate ascot. Meanwhile, on our own "liberal" channel, Matthews and Hayes had been airing their channel's latest dose of Live Fresh Trump!
COOPER: It's another thing to actually stand up in front of the president of the United States and telling you that he is wrong and telling me you disagree with him. And a lot of people did that very well tonight. I think, you know, Taya Kyle did a great job and just a lot of people were very strong on defending their positions.
Cooper isn't one of ours. This afternoon, we'll start to show you a growing journalistic problem our own liberal dumbness created.