A Grand Compromise

Last Wednesday, a 19-year-old lunatic opened fire at a Florida high school, killing 17 students and teachers and wounding several others.  This Valentine’s Day massacre was the 30th mass shooting in the United States so far this year, and the most deadly.

As our fellow citizens raced into their predicable opinion bubbles, ruminating on how to properly react to yet another instance of pointless American carnage, one sentiment struck me with particular force:  “If you oppose gun control, you can’t call yourself pro-life.”

On the one hand, an assertion like that speaks for itself.  Guns equal death; therefore, to foster life, eliminate the guns.  Surely the “pro-life” movement, whose entire platform is based on protecting the young and vulnerable, can appreciate this as well as anyone.

And yet, unfortunately, the world is more complicated than that, if only because of the apparently intractable politics that have enabled America to become the most trigger-happy advanced nation on Earth.  Even when overwhelming majorities of the public support certain basic changes to who gets to own deadly weapons in this country—and who doesn’t—the financial tyranny of the NRA over our elected officials guarantees a bloody status quo on guns for many years to come.

Into this breach, I offer a modest proposal:  Repeal the Second Amendment once and for all, and in exchange, allow the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

That’s right:  I’m suggesting a good old-fashioned trade-off whereby two groups claiming the mantle of “pro-life” can put their money where their mouth is, and two major issues can be addressed in one fell swoop.

Obtuse as it may sound, there is a certain symmetry in tethering gun rights to abortion rights.  After all, both are rooted in core constitutional principles—the former in the aforementioned Second Amendment; the latter in the Fourteenth.  Both involve the direct, deliberate taking of human life, sometimes for morally dubious reasons.  Both provoke deep, painful and ultimately irresolvable debates about what it means to be a free American.  Finally, both hinge on the question of federalism and what it would mean, practically-speaking, if we were to radically decentralize certain rights we have heretofore regarded as (to coin a phrase) inalienable.

Of course, we’ll never find out the exact answer to that question, since neither the Second Amendment nor Roe v. Wade will be disappearing any time in the foreseeable future—a fact that leaves me half-relieved and half-depressed (not necessarily in that order).

All the same, having witnessed lawmakers’ shameful abdication of leadership in the teeth of one heinous—and utterly preventable—mass shooting after another, I have reached the dispiriting conclusion that our national epidemic of gun violence will never abate unless and until we decide, as a people, that there shouldn’t be a right to bear arms in the first place.  While such seemingly obvious fixes as an assault weapons ban or robust background checks would undoubtedly save countless lives, neither addresses the fundamental collective psychosis that is Americans’ fetishization of hand-held killing machines, for which the Second Amendment provides both legal and cultural cover.

Were I to become king, I would gut the Second Amendment tomorrow and hurl every firearm into a volcano.  However, since I am not king and we live in a republic, I recognize that, one way or another, effecting truly transformational gun reform will come at a price—and a painful one at that.  In a country with such wildly divergent views of liberty and freedom and right and wrong, no major ideological settlement can be made cleanly or simply:  There must be a fight, and both sides must be prepared to give at least as much as they are hoping to take.

It’s hard to believe today, but this was something that America used to be able to accomplish.  Indeed, look closely enough and you’ll notice a large chunk of modern American life came about through incongruous—if not outright ludicrous—grand compromises, many of them sealed in proverbial smoke-filled rooms or around dinner tables in between bottles of Port.  Think Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton agreeing to establish a national bank in exchange for moving the capital from New York to Virginia.  Or the Compromise of 1850, which gave us the horrid Fugitive Slave Act, but also California.  (The former was eventually repealed.  The latter, not yet.)  Or the fact that the Constitutional Convention itself gifted us a bicameral legislature, with one house favoring small states and the other favoring large ones.

That was then.  Now, of course, we are represented by a Congress that can’t seem to pass laws everyone likes, let alone ones that divide America straight down the middle.  Because our body politic has become so irretrievably tribal—so blindingly partisan, so stubbornly zero-sum—the very notion of compromise has increasingly been conflated with weakness, capitulation and ideological selling-out, rather than for what it actually is:  the only known way to run a goddamned country.

Hence the rank impossibility of a comprehensive immigration deal—something that could be resolved in an hour if Democrats merely agreed to fund a wall along the Mexican border.  Hence the absence of a plan to strengthen Obamacare, which the GOP prefers to cripple out of spite than make work for its own constituents.

Our leaders would rather get nothing than give their opponents anything, and we are all living with the consequences.  It would be a terribly unfair quandary for this great country to find itself in, except for the pesky fact that every one of those representatives was democratically elected by us, the people.  This is what we wanted, folks, and the madness will continue until we choose—say, on November 6—to make it stop.

Continuity with Change

Out there in the über-liberal, anti-Hillary, Bernie Bro corner of the interwebs, the following challenge has been posed:

“Convince me to vote for Hillary Clinton without mentioning Donald Trump.”

As with so much else about the #NeverHillary crowd, it is unclear whether the above is a genuine, good-faith inquiry or just a snarky dig at Clinton’s supporters’ supposed moral bankruptcy.

It’s a rather bizarre question, in any case.  If it’s meant as pure rhetoric—a way of pointing out how the leading justification for Clinton’s presidency is that it would prevent a Trump presidency—then we can take the point while also acknowledging its childish assumption that competing candidates could ever be judged independently of each other—as if choosing one option didn’t also mean rejecting the other.

However, if the question is meant seriously, then it’s just a stupid question.

Can liberals identify reasons to elect Clinton that don’t involve her not being Donald Trump, you ask?  Are there really other liberals who think the answer is “no”?

There are dozens of ways to support Hillary’s candidacy without regard to her Republican opponent.  Many of them are identical to those that led millions of future Bernie Bros to support Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012—and, naturally, many of the same traits also applied to Bernie Sanders during this year’s primaries.  There are also reasons to endorse her that are sui generis, applicable to her and her alone.

Broadly speaking, Hillary is an enthusiastic subscriber to virtually the entire Democratic Party platform—thus, anyone in ideological agreement with Democratic principles is, by definition, in general alignment with Clinton on what we sometimes refer to as “the issues.”

For instance, she would clearly support and defend—and, if we’re lucky, expand and streamline—the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, overruling every last congressional attempt to kill it once and for all.

She would affirm the recently-established right of any two consenting adults to get married, have children and live happily ever after, while also ensuring those same people cannot be fired or otherwise discriminated against for unconstitutional reasons.

She would continue President Obama’s fight against global warming and his attempts to make the country more energy independent.

She would pledge solidarity with Muslims and other religious minorities against persecution by violent Christian extremists.

She would shape a Supreme Court that would vote in favor of a multitude of issues that liberals care passionately about—voting rights, women’s rights, transgender rights, you name it.

She would try to do something about gun control and—if the stars are aligned just right—maybe even succeed.

In addition to being the first female chief executive, she would appoint a record number of women to her cabinet, not to mention a boatload of ethnic and racial minorities spread throughout the executive branch, thereby inspiring countless young people to consider public service for the first time in their lives.

She would hold meetings and actually listen to what the other people have to say.

She would forge relationships with every last member of Congress, knowing that someday she might need their support for something important.

Long story short, she would essentially be a slightly more mature—but slightly less exciting—version of Barack Obama.  In effect, she would represent Obama’s third term in office, for better and for worse.  That’s the argument for electing her president.  Take it or leave it.

Now, it’s true enough that Clinton herself has never explicitly said, “Vote for me, Obama’s third term!”  However, it doesn’t require a great deal of reading between the lines to grasp the subtext of all of her major policy positions, which can be summed up as, “If you’ve enjoyed life under Obama, you’ll enjoy it under me.”

I realize this is an inherently uninspiring message—a tacit admission that things probably aren’t going to change very much over the next four-to-eight years—but it’s also admirably fresh and realistic—a means of subtly lowering our expectations to a level at which we might actually want to re-elect her four years hence.

Every president in history has needed to confront the gap between what he thinks he can accomplish and what he can actually accomplish, and Hillary Clinton stands apart from most previous candidates in her deep understanding of this fact.  Among the many differences between her and Donald Trump—a man whom, you’ll note, I haven’t mentioned in quite some time—is that Trump apparently thinks a president can do literally anything he wants, while Clinton knows full well that the job is extraordinarily limiting and depends on a great deal of teamwork to get anything meaningful accomplished.

In 1961, John F. Kennedy intoned to the American people, “Let us begin.”  When Lyndon Johnson succeeded Kennedy in November 1963—albeit under unusual circumstances—he said, “Let us continue.”  That’s the dynamic between Obama and Clinton:  They are so compatible in their basic worldview and value systems that we can expect an exceptionally smooth transition from one to the other (this time without an assassination in between).

I don’t know about you, but I have quite enjoyed the Obama administration.  It has followed through on a plethora of progressive actions that were utterly lacking under George W. Bush, and I can say unequivocally that my own personal corner of America is infinitely better off now than it was eight years ago.  If Obama were eligible to run for a third term, I would vote for him a third time.

But he can’t, so I’ll settle with Hillary, instead.

Many Republicans will be familiar with this sense of depleted enthusiasm, since they elected George H.W. Bush in 1988 by pretending he was Ronald Reagan, an incumbent who was term-limited after eight years of making many conservatives’ dreams come true.  In the end, Bush proved a capable but ultimately lackluster follow-up act, keeping some promises while breaking others, and is today admired as much by liberals as by conservatives.

History could easily be in the process of repeating itself on the other side of the ideological spectrum, and that is roughly what we should expect.  Hillary Clinton has drifted to the left on numerous issues as of late, but the intractability of Congress and Clinton’s own cautiousness will surely limit the reach of her administration’s most ambitious goals, resulting in exactly what her most clear-eyed advocates have promised:  Modest, gradual progress through compromise—a variation of Selina Meyer’s campaign slogan in Veep, “Continuity with Change.”

Sounds pretty good to me.

Night and Day

If there is one thing I have learned for sure about Hillary Clinton, it’s that she is both better and worse than everyone seems to think.

Worse because of her ongoing paranoia, deceit and iron-fistedness vis-à-vis her quest for the Oval Office.

Better because of her wit, intelligence, compassion and jaw-dropping stamina as they relate to the exact same goal.

In the spring of 2008, I wrote an op-ed for my college newspaper in which I petulantly griped about how Hillary Clinton has a way of getting under your skin even as you find yourself agreeing with most of what she stands for.  How her single-mindedness and love-hate relationship with rules and facts tend to overshadow her finer qualities, even for those who are otherwise prepared to accept her as the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party.

Re-reading that article seven-and-a-half years later, I am somewhat alarmed by how well it holds up.  While my writing has matured (arguably), my hang-ups about a potential President Clinton Part II were pretty much exactly the same then as they are now.  They include:  Her penchant for making up stories when the truth is readily available for all to see; her brazen disregard for the rules whenever they are inconvenient; and her tendency, in any case, to exacerbate the little scandals that pop up whenever she is in power, invariably by blaming the whole thing on her would-be enemies, be they Republicans, foreign governments or a White House intern.

All of those quirks still apply, and must forever be held in consideration when one endorses Clinton for president or any other office.  As ever, a vote for Hillary is a vote for all the baggage that comes with her.  And that’s before we get into the issues that involve actual substance.  As the enduring success of Bernie Sanders demonstrates, there remains a great minority of Democratic primary voters who consider Clinton the wrong candidate at the wrong time and who, should she become the party’s nominee, might even stay home on Election Day rather than pull the lever for her.

Against all of that, however, I come bearing news:  Politics has changed a lot over the last two election cycles and we no longer have the luxury to vote only for candidates we like.  When and if we make it to November 8, 2016, most of us will be faced with two people whom we don’t particularly want to be president, but we’ll need to choose one of them all the same, because that’s how elections work.

I know:  This sounds like a “lesser of two evils” lecture.  It’s not, because presidential campaigns are not a choice between two evils.  Deciding to ally with Stalin against Hitler—that was a choice between two evils.  When we vote for a commander-in-chief, the decision is between not just individuals, but two opposing philosophies of how to run the government of the most important republic in the world.  There’s nothing evil about it, but the choice is stark nonetheless—now more than ever before.

If you think there is no meaningful difference between Republicans and Democrats, you’re not paying close enough attention.  If you’re unwilling to vote for either because their candidates just aren’t perfect enough, you’re a child and a fool.

Last Saturday’s Democratic debate drew only a fraction of the audience of any GOP contest this year.  That’s a real shame, because, if nothing else, it affirmed Bill Maher’s observation in 2008 that to see both parties talk, it’s as if they’re running for president of two completely different countries.

Case in point:  At the most recent Republican forum, you would be forgiven for thinking that 9/11 happened yesterday and that terrorism is the only thing worth caring about when it comes to the welfare of the United States and its citizens.  It was practically the only subject that came up, while such things as the economy, health care, infrastructure and even immigration received little more than a passing shout-out from any of the nine candidates.

The Dems spent plenty of time on terrorism, too—the San Bernardino massacre made it unavoidable—but they allocated equal, if not greater, emphasis on subjects that are—let’s be honest—considerably more urgent and germane to all of us at this moment in time.  Along with the issues I just mentioned, these included gun control, race relations, income inequality, college affordability and the fact that America’s prisons are overstuffed with people whose only “crime” was getting high and having a good time.

This isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill disagreement over national priorities.  This is a dramatic, monumental clash over whether the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  The whole GOP platform has been reduced to, “Be afraid all the time, because you could die at any moment,” while the Democrats act as if tomorrow might actually come and we might as well live and govern accordingly.

Is this the lowest bar we’ve ever set in the history of presidential elections?  Possibly.  Indeed, it’s downright depressing that the very act of governing is no longer seen as a given for anyone in public office.

What is far more depressing, however, is that so many citizens seem to think it doesn’t matter which party is in charge, or that both parties are equally at fault for all of the preventable problems that have occurred throughout the Obama era.  Neither of those assumptions is true, and there are tangible consequences to thinking otherwise.

Care for some examples?  Listen to the GOP’s own rhetoric:  If a Republican is elected president next year, it means the Affordable Care Act is in danger of actual repeal, as is the nuclear agreement with Iran.  It means reversing climate change is no longer a priority, along with the rights of black people, gay people, poor people, women, immigrants, Muslims and refugees.  It means the Supreme Court will net at least one conservative justice, which could easily lead to decisions adversely affecting all of the above and more.  It means our “war” against ISIS will almost certainly escalate to include actual boots in the sand, and God knows what impact that’ll have on our national debt (to the degree that anyone cares).

I realize, of course, that America’s conservatives would be thrilled by such results, but that’s not really who I’m talking to right now.

No, I would mostly just like to remind my fellow leftists that there is a limit to what your disgust with “establishment” Democrats like Hillary Clinton can accomplish.  Clinton is most certainly a flawed candidate, and a flawed messenger for the liberal view of good governance.  She is plainly compromised by her close relationship with the financial industry and remains insufficiently skeptical of large-scale military interventions in the Middle East.  She hasn’t yet mastered the art of damage control and offers little assurance that she won’t create more damage in the future.  A second Clinton presidency would guarantee a fair share of political nonsense from the day she arrives to the day she leaves.

Know what else it would guarantee?  Health insurance for tens of millions of people.  Funding for Planned Parenthood.  Increased protections for the LGBT contingent.  A more liberal Supreme Court.

And it would guarantee our first female commander-in-chief.  Sure, I know we’re supposed to be a meritocratic society that doesn’t care about race, sex, etc., but let’s not pretend that following our First Black President with our First Woman President wouldn’t be unimpeachably gratifying.  We already know beyond doubt that a woman can manage a country at least as well as a man—perhaps you noticed that, for the last 10 years, one such woman has been more or less running all of Europe—but wouldn’t it be great to have it actually happen here?

Of course, none of this matters during the primary phase of the campaign, where we are now.  So long as Democratic voters still have a legitimate choice between Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and, I suppose, Martin O’Malley), they have every obligation to argue about which option makes the most sense for where the party ought to be, and that choice is always a balance between ideological purity and perceived electability.  If you want Sanders as your nominee, you’d best make your case now, before it’s too late.  (I’ve already made mine.)

But should time run out and your preferred candidate lose, realize that our whole electoral system operates on the principle that the party is ultimately more important than any individual within it, which means a great number of people will be forced to compromise some of their deepest-held beliefs in the interest of party unity—because it’s better to support someone with whom you agree 60, 70 or 80 percent of the time rather than ensuring victory for someone with whom you agree not at all.

If total ideological alignment leads to total electoral defeat, then what good did those principles do you in the first place?  Republicans have been learning this lesson continuously since the moment President Obama was elected.  Are Democrats on the verge of making the same stupid mistake?


As the nation smarts from its most recent mass shooting—this one at a community college in Oregon—I wonder:  this time, can we skip the niceties and just repeal the Second Amendment?

In America’s perpetual cycle of gun violence, the predicable response by the left—but never by the right—is to advocate for stronger gun control laws, in the hope that these sorts of senseless large-scale massacres could be made a little less common in our culture.

While there is no doubt that background checks, assault weapons bans and the like would reduce the total amount of lethal firearms in circulation—and, presumably, lower the odds that some lunatic will toddle into a public place and wreak unholy havoc—it has become increasingly clear that such “common sense solutions” are not enough.

To truly, comprehensively address our country’s problem of crazy people committing mass violence with guns, we need to change the culture itself.  And there is no more obvious place to start than to amend one-tenth of our beloved Bill of Rights.

We often ask why our country is so much more violent than other Western democracies, as measured by how many times we kill each other (and ourselves) with guns every year.

I think it’s rather simple:  It’s because we have conflated weaponry with freedom.

Americans value personal autonomy as a sacred birthright, and somewhere along the line we decided that having your own private arsenal is a necessary component of the compact between individuals and the state.  As far as we’re concerned, personal freedom and security are meaningless unless they include the ability to kill another human being with the greatest of ease.

And you can’t blame us for thinking that, because it’s written right there in the Constitution:  “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  Scholars have argued long and hard about the significance of the first half of that sentence, but the second half is inescapable.  So long as the Second Amendment remains on the books, we will continue to accept that purchasing and carrying a gun is—under most circumstances—a natural part of American life, along with all the carnage that comes with it.

Which means that if we want to change the latter, we will need to change the former.

So let’s do it.  Let’s strike the Second Amendment from the record and forget it was ever there in the first place.

This may seem like an extreme, radical measure.  In practice, that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.

After all, to abolish the Constitutional right to “keep and bear arms” would not make gun ownership illegal.  As with any activity not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, it would merely delegate the regulation of firearm sales to individual cities and states—a scenario that more or less already exists.  The difference, of course, is that those municipalities would be empowered to enact severe gun restrictions—if not outright prohibitions—they could not currently get away with.  Or, conversely, to opt for no limits whatsoever.

The result would be exactly what Republicans have always claimed they want:  A laboratory of democracy operating purely on the state and local level.  Guns would be prevalent in areas of the country that want them and scarce in areas that don’t, and the results would speak for themselves.

The real impact of getting rid of the Second Amendment—the reason it might be worth the trouble—is that it would force us to treat deadly weapons with the gravity they deserve, and to stop acting as if they were as American as football and pumpkin pie.  It would scale firearms down from a revered prop in the American tool belt to what they actually are:  A million tragedies waiting to happen.  They would be exotic commodities, instead of the red-white-and-blue freedom sticks that many of us take them for now.

This shift in attitude would be no small thing—not when you reflect on how much of a crutch the Second Amendment has always been for those who oppose any and all gun control legislation, and how much more challenging the pro-gun argument would be if the amendment didn’t exist.

Indeed, every time we experience some gun-related mass murder and our leaders muse about what might be done to rectify it, the National Rifle Association and its fellow travelers insist that the problem of sociopaths accessing weapons is ultimately unsolvable, then they proceed to hold up the text of the Second Amendment the way a zombie hunter holds up garlic.

The NRA apparently feels that the right to bear arms is absolute and—as Ben Carson recently argued—more important than ensuring that innocent children are not pumped full of holes, even when such horrors could very easily be prevented.

Well:  so long as the Constitution says what it says, what’s to stop them from thinking that?

Now, I’m not a complete idiot.  I realize that the prospect of repealing a Constitutional amendment—particularly this one—has roughly the same likelihood as electing Taylor Swift to be speaker of the House.  Not counting the Bill of Rights, America’s founding document has been altered only 17 times in its 228 years of existence.  What is more, only once has Congress replaced one amendment with another, and that was for the singular purpose of reintroducing alcohol into polite society (a noble cause if ever there was one).

Yes, of course attempting to knock down the Second Amendment would be an exercise in futility—political suicide, to say the least—and I don’t expect such an effort to take shape in my own lifetime, or anyone else’s.

In 2014, no less than former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens offered the following compromise:  Rather than abolishing the Second Amendment outright, he wrote, let’s expand it by five words so that it reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.”

That would certainly do wonders in clarifying what the founding fathers likely meant in composing the original clause, and it may well have the effect of tempering our country’s cavalier attitude toward crooked metal objects that kill people.

Or not.

Maybe the image of Americans as armed and dangerous is just too strong for us to ever overcome.  Maybe the United States really is exceptional in this regard, for better and for worse.  Maybe our increasingly obstinate Congress has made concrete gun control laws impossible for the next many years, and maybe these insane school shootings will continue to occur at regular intervals for the rest of our natural lives.  That’s to say nothing of all the afterschool shootings, suicides and freak accidents that can only be caused by lethal weapons and would be far less prevalent if those weapons were far more difficult to obtain.

In other words, maybe we’re doomed.  Maybe a few dead children every now and again is the price we pay for freedom, and we’ll just need to get used to it.

And so we are left to ask ourselves whether a Constitutional right to bear arms is worth all of that.  Call me un-American, but I’m not entirely sure that it is.

Virgin Death

How has America’s mass killing community become a group of such pathetic, pitiful losers?

Surely, this wasn’t always the case.  In the good old days of the Great Depression, we had the likes of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow—happy-go-lucky twentysomethings who robbed banks and shot their way across the landscape just for the fun of it.  As the movie tagline sang, “They’re young.  They’re in love.  They kill people.”

Flash-forward to the present day, and we are presented with one Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who murdered six (and himself) and wounded 13 last week in Isla Vista, Calif., all for the very excellent reason that he could never get laid.

We know that sexual frustration was his primary motivation for going nuts and shooting up the joint, because he left a 137-page note saying so—a document that our media, with its usual tact and taste, took the liberty of publishing in its entirety.

The essence of this would-be manifesto is that Rodger’s life had been one long string of bummers—bullying, rejection, social isolation, the works—and so it was only fair for it to end in one big hail of gunfire.

(My observations are based on excerpts.  I confess I didn’t get through the whole thing.)

Although he ultimately had it out for all of mankind, Rodger seemed to harbor an especially burning grudge against women.  Not any particular women, mind you—just women in general.  Because none had had the basic decency, even once, to climb into bed with him—an adolescent rite of passage Rodger took as nothing less than his due—all are guilty of withholding from him even a faint glimmer of a happy, fulfilling life.  Therefore, all of them must die.

As you can probably sense by now, this is a first-person account featuring a slightly-less-than-reliable narrator (and not a sympathetic one, either).  Were it not for the carnage that its author ultimately wrought, it would not be worth even a moment of our attention, let alone our interest.

Indeed, viewed simply as a piece of writing, Rodger’s rant can scarcely be taken seriously at all.  Removed from its real-world context, it could very easily be confused for satire, albeit of a decidedly pedestrian and juvenile sort.

In his self-righteous rage, Rodger seems to have attempted a modern-day rewrite of Mein Kampf, except instead of scapegoating the Jews for all the trouble in the world, Rodger scapegoats the world itself and all the people in it.  (Except for himself, of course.)

As literature, this could conceivably be a compelling project, except that the allusions to Adolf Hitler are so obvious and over-the-top that the conceit quickly grows rather tiresome.  (To wit:  Rodgers employs terms like “final solution” and “concentration camps,” apparently without irony.)

Much the same could be said for his accompanying video, which he posted online shortly before embarking on his rampage.  This monologue, which coldly sums up Rodger’s case against humanity, has been called things like “chilling” and “haunting” in light of the darkness that followed, but it would also fit right in, in some alternate universe, as a video spoof on The Onion or FunnyOrDie.com.  One can easily imagine the headline:  “Narcissistic Sociopath Mystified Why Nobody Likes Him.”

What I’m saying is that Elliot Rodger was a joke.  A toxic, stupid, monstrous, hateful, destructive joke, to be sure.  But a joke nonetheless.  A one-man cult of death.  An enemy not of women, but of all civil society.

What he was not, then, was some sort of cultural barometer for the status of sexism in today’s America.  And yet that’s exactly what has been implied by the sweeping Twitter campaign #YesAllWomen, whose basic message is that every woman today is subjected to male sexual harassment—sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, and all rooted in the assumption that women are subhuman objects of possession—and that this disease must be fought with the fire of a thousand suns.

It’s arguably a true statement and unarguably a worthy cause, respectively.  But connecting either or both to a loony toon like Rodger—as if he is a representative male—is scarcely more useful or appropriate than holding up Osama bin Laden as a demonstration that organized religion can sometimes make people behave badly, or pointing to the Führer himself as evidence that antisemitism has a downside.  It’s just a little too lazy and convenient.

Indeed, it would be great if these sorts of problems could be so easily dismissed as manifestations of pure psychosis, and therefore limited only to our most extreme, depraved (and well-armed) citizens.  But alas, they are more complex, stubborn and pervasive than that, and demand to be treated as such.

But a guy like Elliot Rodger?  He deserves to be treated like the boring, humorless parasite that he was.

Wisdom From Sandy Hook

In four years of high school, no day was more memorable or enjoyable than the one in which someone called in a bomb threat.

As any number of my childhood comrades would affirm, there was something perversely exciting yet whimsical about being hauled off en masse from the classrooms to the football field for a few hours on a sunny spring afternoon while administrators combed the school building for anything that might go “boom!”

Maybe it was the perfect weather, or the opportunity to break in the field’s brand new artificial turf with a game of “Duck, duck, goose.” Maybe it was simply the prospect of having an extra day to study for a big physics test or to catch up on some long-neglected sleep. (One group of geniuses decided to pass around a joint under the bleachers. Took them nearly five minutes to get caught.)

Whatever the reason, the sudden and imminent prospect of the school blowing up really made our day.

Of course, these happy memories are predicated on the not-unimportant fact that (as you probably guessed) the school didn’t blow up after all. Following a thorough search, nobody found anything suspicious and the whole episode ending up being a ridiculous hoax, as nearly everyone on the field assumed it was from the start.

We got lucky.

Reflecting on the silliness now, on this very somber anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I can only shudder at how very unlucky we could have been, and in any number of ways.

At that time—namely, the mid-2000s—my high school had no security apparatus to speak of. Backpacks and lockers were rarely searched, nor were the identities of those entering the building at the morning bell subject to any particular scrutiny. We had no metal detectors and, until my senior year, no security cameras to keep us young’uns in line.

As with myriad other public (and private) spaces across these United States, if someone truly wished to plant an explosive or strap himself with firearms and unleash holy hell, precious little would have stood in his way.

In the end, whether any particular school—or church or federal building or marathon or whatever—falls victim to some vile atrocity mostly depends upon the bad luck of having a crazy person in one’s midst with the will to carry it out.

A tragedy like Sandy Hook occurs and people ask, “Why did it happen here?” Given the realities of living in a free and open society, one could just as well ask, “Why shouldn’t it?”

To a degree, the nature of American life guarantees that, sooner or later, something horrible is going to happen somewhere and there is little, if anything, we can do about it.

Now then.

In the national conversation about gun control, this inevitability factor is conventionally used as an argument for less regulation, not more. It goes like this: Since violent, homicidal people will always exist, and since (some) such people will always find a way to acquire the weaponry they need, any form of gun control is futile and counterproductive.  It would only weaken the defenses of the good guys.

Per contra, if there is any single lesson I have learned from the many gun-related debates of the past year, it is that inevitability is as much an argument in favor of gun control as it is the reverse, and that those on the pro-regulation side might want to cite it more often than they currently do.

I put it to you in the form of two questions.

First: Were federal and/or state laws to make it impossible for an individual to legally purchase a so-called “assault weapon”—that is, a gun capable of killing the maximal number of people in the minimal amount of time (and with the minimal amount of effort)—is it not reasonable to surmise that the total number of individuals who possess such trinkets would, over time, decrease?  Even if only by a little?

And second: With an assault weapons ban on the books, would not the total number of innocent people killed in mass shootings also go down?

Once and if you conclude that an assault weapons ban (or something similar) would, in fact, reduce the total number of assault weapons in circulation across the United States, and that such an occurrence would result in fewer total people being killed or wounded by them—and, therefore, by firearms in general—then the onus is very much on Team Second Amendment to demonstrate why such legislation is nonetheless a bad idea.

Why, in other words, is the death (or likely death) of a maximal number of innocent children a necessary price to pay for this apparent freedom to own an instrument that is designed, among other things, to cause those very deaths?

Yes, there is evil in the world. Yes, there will always be villains who get a hold of deadly, illegal weapons. Violence committed upon innocent bystanders is inevitable.

However, to then say that we cannot and should not attempt to limit the extent of these inevitabilities is an absurd leap of logic that demands the highest and closest of scrutiny in the days and years ahead.

Obama Goes Hunting

Yup, that’s just what the national conversation about gun control needed:  A photograph of the president with a shotgun.

I feel so enlightened now.  Don’t you?

In case you missed it:  As President Barack Obama continued his push for a fresh set of national policies regarding guns in America, he created a micro-controversy for himself by answering a reporter’s query as to whether he has ever fired a gun in the affirmative.

“Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” said Obama.  “Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there.”

Following understandable skepticism of this claim, the White House released a photograph from last August of the president doing exactly that.

As we try to ascertain a point to this ostensibly silly and irrelevant rumpus, the idiom that springs to mind is “Nixon goes to China.”

In 1972, President Richard Nixon began the process of establishing a formal relationship between the United States and China, a country then still under the iron fist of Chairman Mao.

According to political theory, Nixon was able to get away with this only because he was a stridently anti-communist Republican, as demonstrated in speeches and actions throughout his political career.

Since Nixon could not credibly be accused of being “soft on communism,” the thinking goes, his effort to make nice with a communist regime could be viewed by the public as part of a larger geopolitical strategy that would prove advantageous to the United States.  A president without such a hard-line reputation might not be granted such a benefit of the doubt.

In the years since 1972, “Nixon goes to China” has become linguistic shorthand for the phenomenon of a U.S. president behaving against type, either over a matter of diplomacy or domestic legislation.

Whether it was calculated or accidental, Obama in “Skeetgate” seems to be operating under this same principle on the question of gun control.

And he should be ashamed of himself.

Let’s break it down.  The point of Obama’s skeet shooting reference was to forge a smidgen of common ground with America’s armed, who resolutely believe the president to be not merely in favor of more robust gun laws, but to be actively in pursuit of undercutting the Second Amendment—of “coming for our guns,” as the ridiculous rally cry would have it.

By demonstrating that he is not as personally squeamish about handling a firearm as his adversaries presume he is, Obama hopes to convince gun owners he is one of them, and that he empathizes with their concerns about their rights.

The “Nixon in China” logic is as follows:  Because I enjoy embarking upon the occasional hunting trip, I could not possibly be hostile to the right to bear arms.  Therefore, my current gun control proposals do not have ideological motivations, but are rather a mere matter of prudence.

What depresses me about this whole episode is the underlying assumption that the president’s personal gun-related activities matter.  That the president thinks he needs to make a personal appeal to convince skeptics of the rightness of his positions.

The campaign never ends, does it?

It would nice, by contrast, if Obama would simply retain the courage of his convictions about the need to reform America’s gun laws, without this hollow attempt to “reach out” to the other side.  Who does he think he is fooling?

The unfortunate fact is that this president is never going to convince the far right wing about anything on any subject, and he will simply need to accept it.  Obama is not “going to China” on this issue.

Apart from anything else, there is only limited evidence that the “Nixon in China” theory is actually true.

Per example:  The unabashedly liberal Democratic dream of universal health coverage did not require a conservative leader to be realized.  It was passed into law exactly as one would expect:  By a Democratic president supported by a Democratic Congress.  Why should a few tweaks to our gun laws—seemingly a much more modest liberal objective—be any different?

As for Nixon himself:  We do not know that a president without such a reputation for commie-hunting could not have established relations with China in 1972.  We can do no more than speculate.

There are two lessons of history we might consider at present:  First, that a great deal of policy is driven by politics; and second, that this does not necessarily need to be so.  If a piece of proposed legislation or statecraft is a good one, it does not much matter the political identity of the commander in charge.

Why do we expend so much effort to convince ourselves to the contrary?