Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Wall Street Journal columnist doesn’t care about terrorist actions, preferring to go after “evil”

By Marc Jampole

William McGurn, who regularly writes a column called “Main Street” in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, has a rather weird view of evil. In his column titled “The Liberal Theology of Gun Control,” he postulates that an evil can exist that does not manifest itself in the real world. The hidden premise—that Islam is inherently evil—does not appear in the article, which has as its subject the excoriation of liberals for thinking gun control would have prevented the terrorists attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.

The logic is ridiculous because it assumes that evil is something concrete that exists apart from the actions by which evil manifests itself. But if you think of evil actions but do nothing, how is your evil a problem to anyone else? It’s when you commit evil actions that society will consider you evil.

Thus, anything we can do to stop evil actions stops evil. The San Bernardino suspects had legal access to guns, which they then illegally modified. While no one would aver that greater gun control laws would have necessarily prevented the San Bernardino killers from acting, it certainly would have slowed them down, and perhaps made them come out of the closet and thus be identified by the authorities. And we can be certain that stricter gun control would have stopped some would-be terrorists.

McGurn also errs in assuming that all liberals want to do to fight terrorism is establish stronger gun control laws. That is a fallacious reading of the record of statements by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. military and security officials, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Implementing stronger gun control laws is a small part of the package that liberals propose to fight terrorism, almost an afterthought.

Stopping terrorism is also not the only reason to establish stronger gun control laws. In the United States, statistics demonstrate that we have relatively little to fear from the terrorist, but much to fear from the legal gun owner who has an accident, the child or other family member who uncovers a loaded gun and the run-of-the-mill criminal who can purchase a gun at a gun show with no waiting period. It’s a simple fact: the fewer the number of guns per capita in a society, the lower the rate of death and injuries from guns.

His assertion is completely false that in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, the entire public discussion is about gun control. He’s confusing San Bernardino with the mass murders in Colorado Springs, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Pittsburgh and Columbine. After Bernardino, the news media is focusing on Obama’s performance, what we knew and didn’t know about the terrorists before the shooting, refugees and Donald Trump’s awful statements about not letting Muslims in the United States.

A number of almost comic rhetorical flaws mar McGurn’s article, except for those who enjoy finding logical boners. For example, he says that tough gun control laws did not prevent terrorists from inflicting mayhem on Paris and San Bernardino. McGurn scores a two-fer for stupidity with this statement: 1) While it’s true that California and France have stricter gun control laws than other municipalities, both, and especially California, are part of larger geographic zones where in which one can travel without constraints, and in which gun control laws are much looser. 2) No one has said stronger gun control would have prevented the San Bernardino or Paris murders. What liberals and progressives are saying is that controlling gun sales will reduce the total number of terrorist attacks using guns.

McGurn makes a weird historical comparison which hides the fact that the two assertions in the comparison are fallacious. He states that liberals today are calling for greater gun control instead of fighting ISIS, just as liberals called for greater gun control during the Cold War instead of fighting communism. While it’s true that many progressives both today and in the past have called for gun control, it’s also true that most American progressives on domestic issues have also been hardline on military issues. From Truman, Johnson and Humphrey to Obama and Clinton, Democrats have taken a hard line in foreign affairs while supporting gun control at home. Richard Nixon could hardly be called a wimp in foreign affairs, and he was in favor of outlawing handguns and requiring licenses for hunting rifles.

To the degree that it reflects current right wing thinking, the scariest part of McGurn’s article is his underlying premise about evil, that it is an essence and not a type of action. In McGurn’s world view, the only way to free ourselves of the threat of terrorism is to kill everyone who has evil thoughts. I don’t believe that McGurn expects our security forces to begin reading minds. I’m thinking that he believes he knows an evil person (which is different from an evil doer) when he sees one. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Republicans prefer rights of NRA over safety of Americans, yet blame Obama for weak response to terrorism

By Marc Jampole

Is it a lack of consistency or hypocrisy that drives the Republicans to their befuddling policies?

The Republicans have spent the better part of four years devising and passing dozens of new state laws making it harder for millions of people to vote, to protect society from the ostensible menace of the lone wolf criminal who commits the non-violent act of fraudulent voting. Keep in mind that no one has found any evidence of widespread or even occasional fraud. In fact researchers uncovered maybe six cases of individual voting fraud among the billions of votes cast over the past 50 years; none swung an election. But to protect us from the miniscule number of sociopaths who could potentially shoot holes into the great American tradition of fair elections, the Republicans insisted on shrinking the rights of millions.

The Republicans must not think the threat of domestic terrorism is serious, or that it is far less serious than the dangers of fraudulent voting. Republicans voted as a bloc not to prevent people on the Terrorist Security Administration’s (TSA) no-fly list from buying guns. Their excuse: not everyone on the no-fly list is a terrorist, and the Republicans would hate to prevent or impede any red-blooded American citizen from their right to purchase a weapon. The no-fly list affects far fewer people than the recent spate of laws making it harder to vote. There are some people on the no-fly list who may be considering terrorist acts against the United States and other countries, harming dozens and sometimes hundreds of people. All the imaginary scofflaws in the pool of millions of people who are now inconvenienced or prevented from voting would want to do is vote in the wrong district or without prior registration.

National security be damned. The gun rights of a few are more important than the safety of more than 300 million people, according to the Republicans. But the voting rights of millions are not important at all.

No one is saying that increasing gun control laws and making it illegal to own, buy and sell automatic weapons will end all acts of domestic terrorism, mass murders and other gun violence. But every single study that has been done on the topic and every single comparison between countries that has ever been made come to the same conclusion: the fewer guns that are afloat in society, the fewer incidences of gun violence there is and the lower the number of deaths by firearms.

But national security and the safety of citizens be damned, as long as the checks keep rolling in from the National Rifle Association.

While the Republicans are not good at addressing safety issues, they do know how to complain about the supposedly lackluster efforts of the Obama Administration. To a person, and almost in unison, Republican presidential candidates and elected officials have condemned the president for his response to the San Bernardino mass murders. Joining them have been a slew of so-called experts who have appeared on all cable news stations. But the lot of them have nothing concrete to suggest, except for the frightening Ted Cruz who would carpet bomb ISIS territory (including the innocent citizens currently being terrorized by ISIS) and send in large numbers of American troops.

Other than Cruz’s warmongering, not one critic of Obama’s program to combat ISIS has proposed any concrete action that the Administration and American allies are not doing already.  Some will say we should do more of one thing and less of another, without really knowing how much of anything we’re doing, since that’s confidential information. Others will ask for more detail on what are really technical issues—all nitty-gritty process steps—and when they don’t get it, assume the Administration has not worked it out or is not addressing the details they think are important. But not one critic is asking for a real change in the Administration’s program.

The words that dominate what the critics of Obama are saying all convey value or spin, as opposed to defining actions: “Commitment,” “leadership,” “focus,” “urgency” are the words I heard most frequently from Republicans and TV pundits.

To question the commitment of Obama is an absurd ad hominem attack, similar to the questioning of his patriotism or his commitment to free-market capitalism—of course he is committed to fighting terrorism, as committed, and more successful so far, than George Bush II. This language is but another way that Republicans try to question the legitimacy of the first non-white President in American history. To say Obama lacks commitment is a subtle attack on his patriotism, but it’s also an attack on his advisors, the administration and the continuing foreign policy and defense establishment that were installed before Obama and will survive his presidency.

The other words that Republicans frequently employ when criticizing Obama’s actions against ISIS are all related to style. “Focus,” “leadership” and “urgency” express a wide range of styles and attitudes. I don’t believe that Bush II spoke with more urgency in his voice than Obama, but even if he did, so what—his actions, in Iraq, Afghanistan and domestically—were foolish and led us into the current quagmire.

There are those who would question the loyalty of the Republicans who are making ad hominem attacks on the president without suggesting any specific policy changes. It’s one thing to disagree with the course of action the government takes. But to take pot shots at the government while offering nothing different—that’s disloyalty of the highest order.

No one, however, will question the Republicans loyalty to the NRA.