Post-Sandy Hook, an Acid Test for Actual Leadership

NEW SLAUGHTERMuch like how the word “hero” has been devalued by slapping it on every kid who scores a goal in PeeWee soccer, instead of remaining exclusive to people who risk life and limb to save or protect someone or something else, the word “leader” has also been diminished in recent years. An indispensable (and irresistible) tic of marketing jargon, “leader” today has been pretty much reduced to describing anyone who “wins”, which is to say “leads” in ratings, sales, revenue, page views, and Twitter followers.

Excuse me, but I prefer a bit more cred in my definition  of “leader”. I want something that has a fat chunk of the old school criteria of “hero” wrapped up in it. Where “leader” described, for example, a person who dares to take the first step into a dangerous, perilous environment because it’s the right thing to do and because … someone has to show courage and risk pain to get the tough things done.

President Obama gave another moving speech Sunday night at the memorial for the kids and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School. But after delivering four of these eulogies in four years (and passing on literally a dozen other “opportunities”) I don’t know what the guy can possibly say the next time, beyond, “This shit has got to stop.”

To date, Obama the deft politician, has played the far margins of America’s highly irrational gun “debate”. Every strategist has no doubt told him that there is no “winning” in any attempt to legislate sanity into the sub-culture of gun obsessives, people who regard their “right” to own and stockpile home arsenals as an imperative equivalent to breathing. Even at this moment, after his unspecific call to do “something”, Obama has to be calculating the effect of merely hinting at new controls on assault rifles, high-capacity ammo clips, hand guns, registration loopholes and internet ammo sales.

If his election in ’08 (and again last moth) setting off a buying frenzy among the country’s gun fetishists, convinced without reason that a socialist, liberal, black, Kenyan Muslim was going to send Black Helicopters full of ATF agents to confiscate their AR-15 squirrel-hunting rifle, you can only imagine the hysteria that will follow word — via Rush Limbaugh, FoxNews and local outlets like Phoenix’ “Gun Talk Radio” — that the bastard was actually making a move. By day’s end, every ammo warehouse in Pahrump, Nevada be stripped clean, and crowds out front would be milling ravenously, like extras from “The Walking Dead”.

Perhaps even worse, a serious, coordinated move on weapons of mass human slaughter would have the political effect of sucking the air out of every other thing Obama wants to accomplish in a second term. What he is weighing, I suspect is that lacking a constructive agenda of their own, Republicans, led by their “entertainment news complex”, have only obstructionism as a means to impact legislation. The GOP’s radical base would love nothing more than a fight over “constitutional rights” as a way to avoid dealing with genuine tax reform, entitlement spending, climate change … and every other thing we need the government to act on.

But upon the bodies of 20 bullet-riddled grade schoolers (and their teachers) Obama may have arrived at a point where he has no choice. Playing the deft political game of strategic avoidance isn’t going to cut it anymore. We may have reached a point where not just his base, but a critical mass of the “reality based” public will hold his legacy accountable if he fails to make a serious, concerted effort on gun control. An effort to defeat the roiling, semi-to-outright fanatical subculture that to date has successfully obstructed every attempt to put the United States on a civilized, first-world, 21st century legal footing regarding private gun ownership.

But we the public have good reason to expect effective leadership from others in addition to Obama. The regularly pilloried news media — credible institutions like daily newspapers and affiliate TV news rooms — are also in a position of having to put some skin in a risky, fight-worth-having. I note the Star Tribune this morning editorializing against assault rifles, high-capacity clips and the familiar litany of flabbergasting absurdities in our gun “laws”. Thank you, for that. But the Strib might be well advised to make the peeling of the onion of gun obsession a major commitment over the coming months.

Likewise, TV news, which floats on a marketing plan of neighborliness and fraternity while simultaneously lubricating its revenue stream with ghoulish coverage of any kind of mayhem that delivers “hot pictures”, is going to have to decide if it’s going to be part of the solution or just continue playing professional empaths to the latest appalling tragedy. It’s nice that all the local anchors demonstrate paternal concern after every one of these atrocities. But it would be far more helpful if they actually acted like the “leaders” they constantly promote themselves as being and also took a public stand in support of correcting gross misperceptions about violence in America, (we’re safer in our homes than we’ve ever been), if not the regulations most of the reporters, anchors, and news directors know are long, long overdue.

While I seriously doubt TV stations will get anywhere near such leadership, and newspapers will largely wall it off in earnest editorials, everyone effected by this kind of home-brewed terrorism needs to be honest about who were dealing with and what we’re afraid of.

Everyone can pick their favorite research, but the most credible is clear that an obsession with guns has profound psycho-sexual roots in feelings of inadequacy, marginalization, lack of power over personal fate, graspings for respect and authority and of course some level of paranoia. These aren’t  just references to the Jared Loughners, James Holmes and Adam Lanzas of the world — clear psychological basket cases — but fundamentally anyone who stockpiles ammo, “collects” assault rifles and makes the manifestly irrational argument in favor of military killing machines, high-capacity clips, internet ammo sales, etc.

Moreover, as I’m certain Obama well knows, the crowd who makes these pro-assault weapon arguments (otherwise known as the “arm the teachers” argument) is essentially the same crowd also making irrational, emotion-based arguments denying human-caused climate change, insisting only tax breaks for the wealthy and social cuts for the poor (and mentally unbalanced) can pull us out of recession, that “legitimate rape” prevents conception, that evolution is an unproven theory and on … and on.

The time for a “public dialogue” with this crowd is over. That dialogue, really an eye-glazing ranting match, has been had ad nauseam. There is no productive point to it. Their arguments were long since exposed as fallacious and nonsensical.

But that crowd can still do plenty of mayhem. They form the basis of the “primary challenge” scenario that terrifies every Republican incumbent. They will empty their bank accounts to support everyone taking a harder, tougher, crazier stand than the guy wobbling in the face of being shamed into voting for the right thing.

Politicians and anyone else daring to promote themselves as a community leader is going to have to suck it up, gird themselves, take the flack — and hit to advertiser dollars, if … if … they have any conscience about being a responsible citizen.

Over the past decade, counting the build up of the intelligence industry and two wars in the Middle East, United States taxpayers has spent well over a trillion dollars fighting terrorism, which is generally defined as any act that injects a pervasive fear into the population. So what else to do you call this gun insanity? What has to stop first is the craven pandering to and avoidance of a political subset most notable for their irrational fear-mongering (with, As I say, rates of violence ironically declining in all Western cultures), hot button hysteria and the willingness to support their most cherished single issue with their checkbooks.

Genuine leaders will have to isolate this sub-culture, by calling it out for what it is, and then take the fight directly into its face by laying out how the rest of us — including cherubic grade schoolers — are being held prey to their paranoia.

20 thoughts on “Post-Sandy Hook, an Acid Test for Actual Leadership

  1. Joe Loveland says:

    Re: Calling out gun sub-culture for what it is

    Last time Obama did that, it didn’t go too smoothly: “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

    I agree with you that Obama needs to lead on this, despite the full plate and lousy political timing. But an urban African American liberal with an infamously polarizing statement on the subject hanging over him is perhaps not the most credible messenger to win over the middle. He is going to need some rural state folks to get courageous, or he’ll probably lose. He’s gotta try though.

    1. Gailkate says:

      Well, he’s sure not going to find them among Minnesota’s Congressional and state leaders. This morning’s comments from Perterson, Kline, Walz and, God help us, Dayton, shouldn’t have surprised me, but I confess I was staggered. As usual, only Ellison and McCollum have the guts to lead rather than placate those they hope will re-elect them. Franken and klobuchar trod their usual squishy path, their eyes fixed on staying in office whether they accomplish anything or not.

      Let’s admit we’re only sure of two sane voices in Congress. (I didn’t see a comment from Nolan and don’t know him well enough to speculate on his commitment to Democratic values.) We need to call out Peterson and Walz for what they are (not Democrats) and we need to demand that Dayton find a spine. If he can’t, then we start now on grooming a replacement. I’ve worked hard for him, perhaps crediting him with more than he deserved, but this morning I finally woke up. He sounded like a sycophant for the NRA. Or a guy who talks to chairs.

  2. bertram jr. says:

    Hey, when do we get a “moving eulogy” for the US Ambassador and the others killed in Benghazi?

    Oh, that’s right. And Hilary seems “under the weather” suddenly. Geezus.

    You can’t really make this stuff up.

    “We” are not going to “have to change” a damn thing. Except the current administration.

  3. PM says:

    1. leadership is too often assigned to a position (President) as opposed to a person.

    2. Obama has been extremely careful about expending his political capital so far, and this is one of the things that made his re-election so easy. He is far from being a fool. i think that you are absolutely correct that he is currently doing some very careful calculations about what he wants to get done, what that will cost, his long term legacy, and whether it makes sense to take on this fight

    3. Your buddy bertie has nicely illustrated your point about the loonie right. Does he really exist, or do you write his stuff?

  4. bertram jr. says:

    Er, Lambert, my good (alas misguided) man – I see you have blithely co-mingled Kwanzaa and Festivus in your recent holiday greeting on MinnPost.

    So you’re finally admitting that BOTH are completely “made-up” “holidays”?

    There may be a glimmer of light coming from under your boulder!

  5. Erik says:

    I’ll paraphrase some Harris.

    – Meh, maybe we could have stricter gun licensing and more background checks
    – But gun laws won’t remediate our very low crime problems
    – Assault weapons are a non-problem
    – We should have guards at schools. It’s expensive but not absurdly expensive
    – The liberal gun controls community should be embarrassed at their lack of practical knowledge
    – People taking responsibility for the potential of their own self defense is a good thing

    Let’s all remember, this is a very smarty man talking. A logical thinker, a guy who knows stuff.

    1. PM says:

      Oh, whatever are we going to do about these callow youth……

      Older generations have been complaining about the younger generations for….well, generations.

      so what is new here, other than just another crabby old fuddy duddy.

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