Parker and Douthat and Robinson oh my!


The sad state of pundit culture: We were struck this morning by the sad state of pundit culture.

In the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker’s column takes us back to an earlier, more innocent era. Parker falls back on two favorite old tales, one concerning Michael Dukakis, the other concerning Richard Nixon.

Did Dukakis really lose the election because of his ride in that tank? As a candidate, was Nixon really “sweat-soaked?” Actually no. But for decades, treasured old stories like these have driven the work of our pundits.

These treasured old stories are very dumb—but they help pundits get through the night.

In the New York Times, Ross Douthat pulls us forward into a more tribal era. This was a deeply unfortunate way to start a column:
DOUTHAT (12/23/12): Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void

For a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left. In print and on the airwaves, the chorus was nearly universal: the only possible response to Adam Lanza’s rampage was an immediate crusade for gun control, the necessary firearm restrictions were all self-evident, and anyone who doubted their efficacy had the blood of children on his hands.

The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite.
But did Bloomberg ever say or imply that everyone who doubts his proposals “has the blood of children on his hands?” If so, Douthat didn’t bother supplying the relevant statement.

In fact, someone did employ that ugly image this week—but it was a man of the pro-gun hard right. Larry Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, literally said this in response to Newtown: “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.”

Larry Pratt actually made that statement! Somehow, Douthat transported those unfortunate words to the mouths of the whole “American center-left.”

Tribalized culture will do that to folk. The too, it will produce work like that in this post by Gene Robinson. Robinson’s post appears today on the op-ed page of the hard-copy Washington Post.

In tribalized culture, pundits will overstate their degree of shock at the depredations of the other tribe. They will look for ways to call the other side obscene, insane.

The complaints don’t have to make sense. They don’t necessarily have to be made in good faith:
ROBINSON (12/23/12): The NRA’s insane idea about more guns in schools

Absurd, unbelievable, tragic, obscene—I grope for words to describe the National Rifle Association’s proposal for how the nation should respond to last week’s slaughter in Newtown: More guns in the schools.

The idea is so insane that as far as I’m concerned—and, I hope, as far as a still-grieving nation is concerned—the NRA has forfeited the right to be taken seriously on matters of public policy. Newtown is still burying six-year-olds and Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s chief, wants more freaking guns in the schools. Wow.

LaPierre’s rationale, that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” led to his suggestion that there be “armed police officers in every school in this nation.”

Where to begin?
Like almost everyone else in his tribe, Robinson says he is shocked, shocked by LaPierre’s proposal. We’re not entirely sure why that is—whatever one thinks of this proposal, the NRA made similar proposals after two previous mass shootings.

The NRA has always made this type of proposal. But Robinson voices his utter shock, then pretends to expose the lunacy found in the other tribe.

Having called this proposal insane, Robinson proceeds to display some disordered reasoning of his own:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): Where to begin? Let’s assume, for the moment, that we decide to pay the multi-billion-dollar cost of placing one gun-toting officer in every school. What would the officer’s orders be? Shoot anyone who looks suspicious? If not, the officer would wait until an assailant—someone like Adam Lanza—displayed a gun or started firing. What sort of arsenal, and itchy trigger finger, would the officer need to be certain of shooting the assailant before the assailant shot the officer? How many twitchy, furtive, suspicious-looking UPS deliverymen would be tragically cut down in error?
Under the circumstances, we almost find that passage “obscene”—and the next paragraph only gets worse, as you can see below.

What’s wrong with what Robinson says in that passage? Basically, Robinson borrows a familiar approach from the crackpot right. He starts imagining things which could go wrong if LaPierre’s proposal is followed.

This can always be done, in the case of any proposal. It’s a mindless way to proceed, unless you’re totally tribal.

Might a school security guard—sorry, a “gun-toting officer”—end up shooting a UPS deliveryman? Of course he might! But policemen sometimes shoot people in error, and we don’t disband the police.

In fact, many schools already have armed security guards; Columbine High was one such school. Obviously, this practice can’t stop all armed slaughters. For all we know, it has never stopped one.

But it isn’t an “insane” thing to do, as Robinson keeps saying and suggesting. And by the way: Unless you’re bowing to tribal passion, would you describe the hiring of a security guard as an example of “putting more guns in the schools,” as Robinson repeatedly does?

That feels good, but it's very dumb. What follows is utterly mindless:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): So I guess there could be multiple officers in each school. For a glimpse of that dystopian future, recall the shooting a few months ago outside the Empire State Building. A gunman began firing, uniformed NYPD officers responded, they tried to take the gunman down—and nine innocent bystanders were wounded, all by police gunfire. Now imagine that sort of thing happening in a school, and think how many children would be killed by errant shots from police officers’ weapons.
“Now imagine that sort of thing happening in a school,” Robinson says—and of course, we can always imagine! We can also imagine a security guard stopping Adam Lanza last week.

In its wild tribal overstatement, Robinson’s column is almost obscene, given the stakes and given his influence on emerging liberal intellectual culture. But we live in highly tribal times, and the tribal mind won’t see that.

Reading Robinson’s very loud column, the tribal mind will see theatrics and hear name-calling—and the tribal mind will be pleased. In our view, it’s very bad for progressive interests when we liberals head down this path.

Fox and Rush have been like this for years. Is our tribe catching up?

Tomorrow: More sad punditry: Who was the late Nancy Lanza?


  1. Wayne LaPierre, and leadership of the NRA--most emphatically, NOT all of the membership, of the NRA--are akin to rattlesnakes, in your home. What one thinks of them morally is beside the point..whether 'our tribe', as Bob employs the term, hates them, name calls them, or what have is beside the point. The only point with a Rattlesnake, and the only point with the leadership of the NRA, is, you stop them. Or they stop you. (albeit in a peaceful manner...for the moment)

  2. There are plenty of gun control nuts on Daily Kos using just those words to take down contrarians.

    1. Not saying you're wrong, but care to share some evidence? (i.e., a link?)

    2. Anon --you want evidence? Look at the first comment on this thread calling LaPierre and other NRA members "rattlesnakes".

      There's a controversy over a history professor named Loomis who tweeted:

      First fucker to say the solution is for elementary school teachers to carry guns needs to get beaten to death.

      I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre's head on a stick.—

      Looks like the National Rifle Association has murdered some more children.

      You are goddamn right we should politicize this tragedy. Fuck the NRA. Wayne LaPierre should be in prison.

      Wayne LaPierre is a criminal and should be in prison for complicity with murder. 27 counts.

      The right-wing intimidation campaign against me for saying the NRA was a terrorist organization continues. Will not succeed.

      Dear rightwingers, to be clear, I don't want to see Wayne LaPierre dead. I want to see him in prison for the rest of his life.

      Can we define NRA membership dues as contributing to a terrorist organization?

      Larry Pratt and the group Gun Owners of America are terrorists and should be dealt with as such.

    3. You can work the search box, but believe me from Markos Moulitsas on down they are definitely in the "If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out." mode with regard to liberals who don't agree with their, frankly, unhinged pronouncements.

  3. Walter Robinson is liberal, and he said things liberals generally would agree with. As day follows night, what he says is stupid -- that is, just as stupid as what the other "tribe" says. The narrative here these days is becoming so standardized as to make Tim Russert proud. Pick a liberal, any liberal. . .

    Robinson is entitled to believe an armed security guard in every school, including schools with kindergartens, represents a dystopian future. I agree with him. I do not know a parent who would not. To call his opinion obscene, or dumb for that matter, is beyond ridiculous.

  4. Bob -- plenty of liberals have accused the NRA of having blood on their hands. E.g., see this article from the Raw Story Protesters heckle Wayne LaPierre: ‘NRA has blood on its hands!’

    I would assume that Larry Pratt's statement was a response to the many similar accusations that had been made against those supporting gun ownership.

    IMHO one reasonable suggestion would be to end the "gun-free zones". That wouldn't totally solve the problem, but it would help a little, and it doesn't cost anything.

    1. David, Ross Douthat referred to statements made "in print and on the airwaves", which I take to mean those of well known pundits and public figures and is what Bob is referring to here. And your response is to do yet another Google search of the bowels of the Internet, because that way anybody can prove anything they want since there's no shortage of crackpots of all description lurking there. But that's not the same as what's being said by the prominent and influential.
      Over the last week I've seen Facebook posts from friends of mine comparing those favoring gun control to Hitler and the Nazis and attaching those comments to pictures of storm troopers herding Jews into cattle cars in case someone didn't get the message and honestly I haven't seen anything that extreme from those on the other side, but I'm sure I could find something if I tried. But that's not the point of Bob's post, IMO.

      Ray DeLagarto

    2. Fair point, Ray. Regarding the airwaves, I did see the NRA demonstrator on the Lehrer News Hour along with his sign, "NRA Killing Our Kids" (although I would praise that news show for presenting a substantial clip of LaPierre's speech, along with rebuttals.) My cite shows that this sign was broadcast on CNN. A check of google shows that ABC News also broadcast this sign. I suspect other stations and newspapers may have also picked it up.

      I can no longer quote the exact words, but, as I recall, other speakers on the Lehrer Newshour implied or said that the NRA had something to answer for.

    3. Oh, David, the signs held by Code Pink at the NRA "press conference" (reporters in attendance but no questions) hardly qualify as liberal sentiment in print. Your elision of their name is telling. Are the Code Pink protestors "plenty of liberals"? I suppose for you, it works rhetorically but given the size of the liberal slice of America, plenty needs more evidence that your slim pickings.

    4. Here's an article in the Atlantic that compares those who support gun rights with those who supported slavery.

  5. You got it. Bloomberg a liberal? Spare me.

  6. Let me just say for the record: the NRA leadership has blood on its hands, the blood of children and teachers in Newtown, and the blood of children in the streets of Chicago and Philadelphia and Newark and so many of our cities, every day.

    Call me crazy. Go ahead. I don't care. Figurative heads on sticks (see Loomis)???? Sounds right to me. Your crazy is my sane.

    Most of us have some blood on our hands for not doing more sooner, for not going toe-to-toe every second with sociopaths like the NRA leadership, who whip up paranoid fantasies to promote guns guns guns (and their sale -- the plutocrats, as always).

    Dave in Cal, you are a piece of work.

    1. mch, I certainly wouldn't call you crazy. However, I don't know that the evidence supports your POV. Chicago has one of the strictest gun control laws in the country, yet its murder rate is appalling.

      The guns used in Connecticut were legally purchased, with appropriate background check and registration. The various reforms being proposed wouldn't have prevented the Newtown attack.

      mch, your comment is filled with ad hominems -- "blood on its hands"..."the blood of children"..."heads on sticks"..."sociopaths"..."whip up paranoid fantasies"..."plutocrats". It would be more convincing if you could demonstrate that your side supports realistic reforms that would prevent attacks like this.

    2. Was the Newtown attack perpetrated with machine guns? Was Columbine? The answer is no. That is because machine guns are banned in the US.

      If we banned the semi-automatic (and similar weapons) used in the Newtown shooting, the killer would have used a handgun.

      Had the killer used a handgun, I am confident there would have been fewer dead children.

    3. Pistols and rifles are overwhelmingly semi-automatic. There are a few single-shot guns and a few old six-shooters (revolvers), but for many decades semi-automatic has been the standard.

      Banning semi-automatic guns would be like banning gasoline-powered cars.

  7. Walter Robinson is liberal, and he said things liberals generally would agree with. As day follows night, what he says is stupid -- that is, just as stupid as what the other "tribe" says. The narrative here these days is becoming so standardized as to make Tim Russert proud. Pick a liberal, any liberal. . .

    Robinson is entitled to believe an armed security guard in every school, including schools with kindergartens, represents a dystopian future. I agree with him. I do not know a parent who would not. To call his opinion obscene, or dumb for that matter, is beyond ridiculous.

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