My first thought is I am glad I did not watch the speech, nor the Republican
two-headed response to it. From reading the opinions of several commentators, it seems the most momentous part came near the end when the President made an impassioned plea to bring up votes in Congress regarding various gun control measures, passion fueled by the appearance of families of shooting victims in the audience.
Given the intractable nature of federal politics these days, I cannot disagree with the President’s tugging on the heart strings that remain raw in thoughts of Newton, Connecticut. But I am not entirely comfortable with it, either. It is a form of manipulation aimed at our hearts, just as Republicans try to manipulate us with fear aimed at our guts.
Republicans, like Lindsay Graham, always want us to imagine the worst case scenario, the lone woman at home protecting her children who may need an AR15 semi-automatic rifle in case she faces a virtual army of invaders. In contrast the Democrats want us to never forget those little children cut down in such an incredibly merciless way. They want to keep that memory burning, so Congress does not remain stuck doing nothing about it.
While I have qualms about playing upon emotions in both cases, the Newton massacre was real (as what happened in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and to Gabby Giffords in Arizona, and…), while Graham’s example is imagined, referring to his general sense of what took place during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992. In the Senate judiciary committee he referred to roving gangs pillaging and raping, which those who have studied the issue have called “political theater (*1).
We can all easily imagine the worst. That’s what makes playing upon fear so powerful. And why a simple answer like more guns for the good guys is attractive, until you think more about it as I did in a previous post.
It is much harder to imagine children becoming safer at schools because of less direct steps, like more and better background checks and cracking down on inter-state gun trafficking. Over time they seem likely to be safer, but not for your child today, and who is to say just when?
Fear tends to have a longer shelf life than love, and its fires more easily fanned and its solutions clear cut, albeit dubious. For this reason I accept the constant drum beat of “remember Newton”, beat through our hearts to our souls as it will be needed over time to win over the right’s incessant fear mongering. For something to happen in our largely dysfunctional Congress, the fire of compassion must be stoked hot to overcome the fire of fear constantly fanned by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and acceded to by Republicans like Lindsey Graham.
In these next four years it strikes me we will see no more bi-partisanship in Congress than we did in the last four EXCEPT when one side of any proposal can accumulate sufficient leverage to force opponents to get something done, as little and infrequent as that may be.
In this case the leverage will hinge upon who has the passion to fight hardest and longest.
(*1) According to Wikopedia, those riots left 53 dead and over 2000 injured, but Graham takes that scenario and then implies gangs invading homes and pillaging and raping. Two researchers of those events call his comments “unfounded hyperbole” or, as mentioned above, “political theater.” In referring to those riots, Graham said: “What if there’s an earthquake out here and there’s a lawless situation,” the kind of argument regularly made by Wayne LaPierre and other survivalists.