Friday, April 05, 2013

Fundraiser Day 3.5: The Killer In Me Is The Killer In You

Wednesday, on my teevee machine, I watched as Mr. David Sirota laid out very reasonable arguments for passing stricter gun control laws and very practical explanations for why getting done what he wanted to get done was harder than the average muggle might realize.

Arguments and explanations with which I agree. 

I case you're unfamiliar with his work, beyond the subject of gun control, Mr. Sirota (along with Mr. Glenn Greenwald) also has some very strong and unforgiving opinions about drones and Americans and President Barack Obama and freedom and the dangerous concentration of ever more executive power in to ever fewer, opaquer hands.

Opinions with which I mostly agree. 

However, as it turns out, that word "mostly" is deeply problematic for both Messers Sirota and Greenwald and their myriad fans and defenders.  They tend towards a very "Saints vs. Babykillers" view of the subject and get very cranky if one does not agree with every inch of the debate frame they are trying to nail into place (from Bob Cesca):

This new Greenwald rant is a continuation of his ongoing crusade to badger progressives who don’t make it part of their daily routine to screech at the president regarding Greenwald’s preordained three or four pet issues. Greenwald operates under the mandate that because drones are his primary concern and the prism through which he evaluates the president, so it should be with everyone else. The slightest deviation from that narrative in lieu of delivering news of a presidential success is a punishment-worthy trespass.
And as to those opinions, while I think it is dickish and counterproductive to Loudly and Biliously dismiss people who agree with them on most the substance of the problem but disagree with them on the Manichean, "Saints vs. Babykillers" stuff, I fully agree with their right to hold those opinions and to proclaim the as volubly as they wish from much, much bigger platforms than my little blog.
We all clear on that?


Because this is not about drones: this is about how ideological purity can get very Procrustean Bed very fast if one is not careful.

Which brings us back to Mr. Sirota's reasonable arguments regarding background checks and gun control, which were undergirded by what boiled down to two, very basic ideas.

First, in a big "Fuck You!" to purists like Wayne LaPierre who dismiss as absurd and futile any proposition that does not meet their criteria of 100% perfection, Mr. Sirota argued that making the Perfect the enemy of the Good is just stupid and ridiculous.

Second, in a teachable moment about the grubby, real world of whatchacall "politics", Mr. Sirota spoke very earnestly about the reality that President Barack Obama is stuck dealing with a completely batshit opposition in Congress who have devolved to the point of inventing wholly fake excuses to dick him around for no other reason than they fucking hate the guy and would rather burn the country down than agree with him on anything (the colorful language is my own, but the gist, I believe, fairly represents Mr. Sirota's opinion.)

Like, say, Senator Liberty Q. Aqua Buddha's  (R-Galt's Gulch) announcement that he

Rand Paul Threatens to Filibuster Gun Control Bill

—By Gavin Aronsen| Tue Mar. 26, 2013 8:19 AM PDT

Fresh off his 13-hour drone-protesting filibuster of John Brennan's nomination as CIA director, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is threatening to do the same with the Senate's soon-to-be-debated gun control package, Politico reports. In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), co-authored by fellow Brennan-blocking senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), Paul wrote, "We will oppose the motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions...
-- from high atop the same heap of ego and libertarian righteousness from which he hurled 13 hours of Senatorial filibuster thunderbolts at the Obama Administration's drone policy.

All of which raises several interesting ideological conundra.

First, remember Wayne LaPierre's theory as to why anyone should be able to own any damn firearm they want, in any quantity they wish, with no government interference?

LaPierre's world-view holds that citizens need to be able to own flamethrowers or Stinger missiles or .50 caliber machines guns that fire ammo by the pallet-truck-load...because Barack Obama is a tyrant who runs roughshod over the sober judgement of the men and women of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body and rules by whim and decree.

Which also bears more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Greenwald's view of the presidency of Barack Obama:
All of this put Democrats - who spent eight years flamboyantly pretending to be champions of due process and opponents of mass secrecy and executive power abuses - in a very uncomfortable position. The politician who took such a unique stand in defense of these principles was not merely a Republican but a leading member of its dreaded Tea Party wing, while the actor most responsible for the extremist theories of power being protested was their own beloved leader and his political party.
Which leads me to ask, in all seriousness, if someone genuinely believes the White House has -- or may, at some future date, create -- a secret government directorate for assassinating American citizens for no reason, why is it unreasonable for that person to also strenuously oppose any effort by that "extremist" government to limit any citizen's access to whatever arsenal they feel they need to defend themselves against that government?

Isn't the inexorable logic of "The Government is coming to kill you" that everyone must be free to arm themselves to the teeth in whatever way they see fit?

From Mr. Greenwald in 2005:

Equally persuasive was the argument that a disarmed citizenry is more vulnerable not only to criminals but to government tyranny as well. In a country with a (relatively recent) history of military dictatorships and state repression, the argument that firearms played a crucial role in some of the 20th Century's most glorified citizen-led fights for freedom -- in Tiananman Square in China, by Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and by various repressed populations in World War II -- resonated loudly. Brazilians concluded that they were in far greater danger giving up the right to bear arms than they were in keeping that right.
Also, as important as this question is, the rules framing your contemplation of that question are equally important, so please, do not use my rules, because, as everyone knows, I am low and perverse; a minor-but-once-notable writer-of-the-Left who has disgraced the legacy of Steve Gilliard (oh, the emails I get) by falling deeply under the authoritarian spell of Barack Obama.  As such any rules I might come up with may be tricksie and false, so when contemplating the question of gun control please use only the rules of name-brand civil libertarian purists.

And following those rules leads us quickly to Point the Second: on the question of whether American citizens should be free to own any weapon from a tabletop  ballista catapult to a ballistic missile, you may not sit on the sidelines. Sidelines are nothing but hiding places for those horrible hypocrites who were only "flamboyantly pretending" to care about freedom during the Bush Years.

Which then lands us in the arms of point number Three: you may not intrude any mitigating circumstance (like, say, the irrationality and clearly documented malevolent intent of Congress)  into the argument.  Newtown?  A dozen Newtowns?  Sorry, freedom-hater: the world is black and white, so pick a side.

Because -- and this bit is crucially important -- Four, you are not allowed to dismiss the concerns of people like this as mere paranoia:

See, whether or not some prepper's apocalyptic visions of, say, mass-government gun seizures or FEMA prison camps are imminent is irrelevant to the debate because:
Whether domestic assassinations are imminent is irrelevant to the debate.
In fact, Five, to even raise the question of the paranoia of preppers and gun crazies is offensive and unacceptable because:
It does not require "paranoia" to raise concerns about the inevitable logical outcome of these theories. Instead, it takes blind authoritarian faith in political leaders to believe that such a suggestion is so offensive and outlandish that merely to raise it is crazy. 
So the mere existence of the possibility that something awful may someday happen should be sufficient to decisively settle any debate on the subject in the here-and-now.  But, Six, in the event of a tie, the winner will be decided by the American Civil Liberties Union, because:
ACLU says Reid’s gun legislation could threaten privacy rights, civil liberties

As Senate Democrats struggle to build support for new gun control legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union now says it’s among those who have “serious concerns” about the bill.

Those concerns have the capacity to prove a major setback to Sen. Harry Reid’s current gun bill, which includes language from earlier bills introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller, a top lobbyist for the ACLU announced that the group thinks Reid’s current gun bill could threaten both privacy rights and civil liberties...
Which -- let me stress again -- is not some rule I just made up for the hell of it:
The reality is that Paul was doing nothing more than voicing concerns that have long been voiced by leading civil liberties groups such as the ACLU. Indeed, the ACLU lavishly praised Paul, saying that "as a result of Sen. Paul's historic filibuster, civil liberties got two wins". In particular, said the ACLU, "Americans learned about the breathtakingly broad claims of executive authority undergirding the Obama administration's vast killing program."

But almost without exception, progressives who defend Obama's Terrorism policies steadfastly ignore the fact that they are embracing policies that are vehemently denounced by the ACLU. That's because they like to tell themselves that only Big, Bad Republicans attack the ACLU - such as when George H.W. Bush tried to marginalize Michael Dukakis in 1988 by linking him to that group - so they ignore the ACLU and instead pretend that only right-wing figures like Rand Paul are concerned about these matters. It's remarkable indeed how frequently, in the Age of Obama, standard partisan Democrats embrace exactly the policies identified by the ACLU as the most menacing.

But the final points -- point Seven and Eight  -- are my very own:

Seven, does the fact that David Sirota said nice things about Barack Obama, explained in practical terms the real-world limits of what is possible to get done give the profoundly broken government we have, and took a position which might put him at odds with the ACLU (and quite possibly, Glenn Greenwald circa 2005) mean that Mr. Sirota is a mindless partisan O-bot who doesn't care about trampling all over the deeply held concerns of civil liberty loving patriots who are terrified of executive power overreach by a gun-grabbing tyrant?

No.  No it does not.


I want the unchecked executive power of the White House severely curtailed.  I want my issues give more air time and column inches in the national media (Hell, any air time and column inches will do.) I want universal and all-but-foolproof background checks for gun purchases. I want assault-style weapons and large ammunition magazines to vanish.  I want peaceful cities and safe, well-funded schools.  I want the mentally ill to have all the treatment they need.  I want the Congress returned to its former state (Senate: a whited sepulcher full of doddering, old yammerers shot through with a little ancient wisdom.  House: a fleabag of petty corruption, blazing ambition, astounding stupidity and occasional genius.) instead of the dangerous mad-dog it has become.  

But since none of that is within my individual power at the moment  for today I will settle for trying to drive home once again and as clearly as I can the fact that while cask-strength Purity might have that velvety-yet-austere taste and swell mouth-feel that all the kids are crazy about, sometimes it doesn't travel very well.  

As an occasional dealer in Intolerant Absolutes myself, I know enough about handling the stuff to know that sometimes the bright lines we scald into the sand one day can become the bars on a cage of our own making the next.  

Which is why maybe we who generally agree on most things can pack enough kindness in our kits to cut each other a little slack a little more often.


Howard Bannister said...

Thanks for this, Driftglass. I've not been enjoying the battle between you and Greenwald, because as you note, you agree on about 90% of the stuff anyway, and thrashing about the 10% doesn't advance anybody.

But this is a damned important column.

marindenver said...

Well said. Too bad the worst offenders won't see themselves in it. But still, I'm very glad you said it.

OBS said...

Excellent column sir!

Unfortunately this'll all be drowned out because of the dreaded Obummer's budget announcement today that he's offered to cut social security in trade for tax increases (again), and therefor is now eleventy times as bad as Hitler+Stalin, squared.

Pinkamena Panic said...

The response is going to be the same crap it's always been, DG. "Sheep" "blind follower" "Dear Leader" "baby-killer" "Obomber". No shades of gray, no nuance; you are either one of the Holy and Good, or you are Satan Times Hitler To The Stalinth Power.

The usual suspects, so very strident in their purity and goodness, will come in and tell us about how you don't matter because you're not one of them, then they will turn on us because we aren't following them away to the Holy Land of Saint Glenn of Rio, and are thus mindless sheep lost to the wiles of the Great Black Satan.

Oddly enough, they never get the fuck out and stay out. You'd think they'd refuse to pollute their beautiful untarnished minds with the dirt of us impures...

jim said...

Purity: in your twenties, it's as natural as breathing - but in your fifties, it's either a pathetic cry for help or just plain creepy.

Anonymous said...

I really don't get the purity thing. Pointing out egregious hypocrisy, as opposed to minor inconsistency, is not a demand for purity. I don't smell Manicheism. Maybe my nose is a little stuffy.

But let me point out a minor inconsistency. We should "cut each other a little slack a little more often." Heartwarming. But then why do you mostly agree with "unforgiving opinions"? Is it that you agree with the substance of the opinions, but not with their unforgiving quality? Are these opinions only "strong" to the extent they lack forgiveness?

Anonymous said...

I want peaceful cities and safe, well-funded schools. I want the mentally ill to have all the treatment they need. I want the Congress returned to its former state (Senate: a whited sepulcher full of doddering, old yammerers shot through with a little ancient wisdom. House: a fleabag of petty corruption, blazing ambition, astounding stupidity and occasional genius.) instead of the dangerous mad-dog it has become.

In other words:

You are a Conservative! Taking Shit for Being Right Since Before XYZ Was Born!

The end of this article where you humbly request more civility inthe center is the cap: YOU HAVE BECOME DRIFTGLASS BROOKS. Congratulations. Your years of sneering at the freak show have paid off: Metamorphosis complete.

Pinkamena Panic said...

Looks like the usual suspects are in. Mr. "You're just like Brooks" is already spreading muck, with the rest of the Purity Patrol soon to follow, I'm sure.

Also, damn you, OBS, for making my points before I clicked the submit button.

Hamfast Ruddyneck said...

To Anon at 3:59 PM:

Your analogy breaks down at one point.

Brooks is rewarded lavishly for serving the Red faction of the Malefactors Of Great Wealth (aka the Property Party, h/t the late, great Gore Vidal).

Driftglass still has to beg for donations.

Apparently, the Blue faction of the Property Party doesn't pay as well as the Red faction pays--indeed, I doubt Drifty is being paid at all.

Unsalted Sinner said...

How dare you suggest that life is complicated? Fascist!!!1!

Fritz Strand said...

Hate to get all philosophical but as we learn in our philosopy 200 course our judgements are either apriori (absolute and stuff you will never trip over) or a posteriori (like all the fact in the world). Or perhaps if you are a bigger fan of 'absolutes' they can be seen as second or third order abstractions having very little or no connect with 'the world'.

I am a huge fan of Greenwald because of his lawyerly attempts at exhaustive analysis. And yeah he can be like a toothache telling the left, reminding them they have to see what is going on inside.

But we are all sliding on the ice of a slippery slope hope that our culture has enough common sense not to push us into the abyss.

JerryB said...

The rigidity of the Greenwalds of the left has certainly been unpleasant.I respect Glenn and enjoy his writing but I have been dismayed by the bitterness of some of the back and forth. I suppose it's probably always been the case that there will be some in any movement that believes in their own absolute rightness. It's also been true that Liberals/Progressives/Democrats have always been an unruly bunch who spends much of their time taking bites out of each other rather than the opposition.

Ideological Purity is what is destroying the GOP right now and it's been a wonderous thing to behold. I just don't want to see us do the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Graph of frequency of US drone strikes in Pakistan, you know that sovereign nation with which we have not decloared war. No matter, I'm sure they approve, what with wanting to clean up their crime problems and all.

John said...

Does Bob Cesca know what "in lieu" means?

John said...

Also, Geenwald may be good on civil liberties issue, but in other areas, I ain't so sure...

John said...

Oh, I take it back. I finally figured out what Cesca was trying to say with that "in lieu".... It does make sense.

Unknown said...

It appears that in this world no one is pure, not even the purists. I also agree with Greenwald and Sirota on drones.

I however believe that Greenwald comes from a different place in his opposition to drones, and it is similar to Rand Paul's place. Greenwald used to work for the CATO Institute and at the outset of the Iraq War, unlike Driftglass and myself, he supported it. Even the Pauls, Pere et Fils, were better than Greenwald. I've never seen Greenwald support unions, Social Security, or even gay rights. I believe he's more like Rand Paul than he is like your average liberal.

Sirota's liberal bona fides are sturdier. He's worked for good Congressmen and Governors. During Sirota's Twitter tussle with Goldie Taylor, however, I learned that Sirota once worked for AIPAC. If you're going to be anti-drone, it might be good for you to denounce AIPAC, which is very much in favor of drones.

Then again, maybe I'm being too much of a liberal purist.