Wayne LaPierre: The Face of Today’s Conservative Movement

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

wayne lapierre unhinged

Last Friday, one week to the day after the horrible mass killing at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, the National Rifle Association (“NRA”) ended its self-imposed media blackout when the organization’s President, Wayne LaPierre, held a press conference to discuss the tragedy.  Given that the NRA has long been the problem when it comes to the US’s gun violence problem, it should come as no surprise that LaPierre specifically refused to support any form of gun safety legislation. Instead, LaPierre blamed the media and gun control advocates for the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, and proposed putting armed guards in every school as the “solution” to this problem.

Many commentators expressed surprise and dismay at the NRA’s extreme stand.  But they should not have been surprised, as the positions espoused by LaPierre were not only par for the course for the NRA, but also fully consistent with the dangerous black-and-white, us vs. them world view that is endemic in much of today’s conservative movement.  It is a view that ignores gray areas, dismisses potential solutions, and inherently leads to conflict and violence.  And it is a view that must be overcome if we are to achieve a more peaceful and stable society and world.

The dystopian view of our society offered by the NRA is well-defined by the following excerpt from LaPierre’s press conference:

The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame — from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave — while provoking others to try to make their mark?

A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill? And the fact is, that wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country. Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.

So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.

Or, as LaPierre explained more succinctly on Meet the Press, his views on the issue of gun violence can be summed up by the claim that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  If the sentiment behind this statement sounds familiar, it should, as it is the same one that has largely motivated the “war on terror” response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.   Soon after those attacks, then President George W. Bush infamously framed the war on terror as “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”   Other Republicans and conservatives have been even more explicit in what was behind the approach to the “war on terror,” describing it in terms of a “clash of civilizations.” While the contexts are different, the approach taken towards both gun violence and terrorism by the conservative movement is largely the same – the problem is bad violent people and the solution is stopping such people with violence of our own.

Now, there is a kernel of truth in the black-and-white view. It cannot be disputed that there are bad and violent people in the world and that sometimes either police or military force are necessary to prevent such people from causing serious harm.  But that view also far too frequently blinds people to the the nuances that characterize many situations and the existence of numerous other potential solutions that can minimize or even entirely avoid violence and bloodshed.  In fact, with regards to both gun violence and the”war on terror,” experience shows that the black-and-white world view taken by many conservatives has been an utter disaster.

In the realm of foreign policy and national security, this black-and-white world view resulted in an unnecessary war in Iraq, launched on false pretenses, that led to the death of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the wasting of nearly $1 trillion, and the frittering away of our international leadership role.  And by portraying the world as filled with bad guys who must be stopped at all cost, our society has accepted the dismantling of civil liberties here at home (that, unfortunately, has largely continued under President Obama) under the theory that suspects in a diffuse “war on terror” are not entitled to basic protections of the Bill of Rights.

The black-and-white world view as espoused by LaPierre and the NRA has been similarly disastrous when it comes to the topic of guns, as it has made our nation unable to act in the face of an epidemic of gun violence.  Even as guns claim more than 11,000 lives every year and mass killings such as the one at Sandy Hook occur regularly, we have so brought into the false notion of needing guns to be able to protect ourselves from violent perpetrators that we  have been unable to take common sense steps such as reinstating the assault weapon ban, fixing the gun checks system, closing the gun show loophole, banning ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds, and making it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime and to revoke the licenses of corrupt gun dealers.

It is right for LaPierre’s belligerent performance at last week’s press conference to be pilloried as offensive and out-of-touch.  But let’s also keep in mind that LaPierre’s speech offered a look into the mindset of the wider conservative movement that is trapped in a bubble of black-and-white, us vs. them thinking.  Bursting that bubble and bringing a dose of common sense focused on evaluating a full range of causes and solutions to not only gun violence but a wide range of domestic and international issues is critical to ensuring that we do not continue repeating the mistakes of the pass and, instead, move forward toward a less violent society.

An Open Letter to Undecided Voters

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

 (By Brian Frederking of the Toward the Common Good blog)

Dear undecided voters,

You are not really deciding whether to vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. You are deciding whether or not to vote for the Republican Party.

Please do not reward the Republican Party. They have lost their way. They do not deserve your vote.

Republicans are systematically trying to prevent the poor, the elderly, and racial minorities from voting in key swing states. There is one documented case of widespread voter fraud this year – committed by a Republican group.

Republicans have fueled the birther movement with routine references to birth certificates, including the presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Not one Republican leader has publicly criticized this obviously racist movement.

Republicans are lying about the Obama administration changing welfare rules in order to stoke white racial resentment.

Republicans have an explicitly racial strategy to win the election – deny voting rights to minorities and make racist appeals to whites.

Please do not reward the Republican Party. They have lost their way. They do not deserve your vote.

Republicans have shattered all the records for filibusters in the Senate. They say no to everything, even to their own ideas when they are embraced by the president. They are more interested in denying the president any political victories than they are in solving the country’s problems. Republicans have killed numerous jobs bills, including one for returning veterans.

Republicans in Congress have the most conservative voting record in the history of the party. Repealing Obamacare is only the start. They want to roll back much legislation passed in the 20th century. House Republicans have passed bills that would outlaw abortion and contraception. They are against equal pay for equal work. They are against enforcing the Voting Rights Act. They want to privatize Social Security, voucherize Medicare, and pulverize Medicaid. Say goodbye to student loans, consumer protection laws, and food safety.

Republicans have turned the word ‘freedom’ to mean that everyone is on their own. Congratulations – you are free! Now try and find some affordable health insurance.

Please do not reward the Republican Party. They have lost their way. They do not deserve your vote.

Republicans peddle an ideology that is completely in the economic interests of the 1%. But that ideology does nothing to solve our everyday problems. Limited government does not lead to a better education for our children. Limited government does not lead to energy independence; or deal with climate change; or prevent the next financial crisis; or make sure everyone has access to medicine; or prevent jobs from going overseas. It simply enables the rich to get richer. It enables corporations to pay more in CEO compensation than taxes.

Please consider the last 20 years. Where were we when Bill Clinton left office? Where were we when George W. Bush left office? Obama is offering us Clinton policies, and Romney is offering us Bush policies. It is as simple as that.

Please do not reward the Republican Party. They have lost their way. They do not deserve your vote.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

Remembering The Spirit of Molly Ivins: ‘We Are The People Who Run This Country’

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

There are some who could argue the issues we face today are not all that new.  But one thing that has changed dramatically, even in just a few short years, is how those issues are discussed, especially in print.  The conversations have turned ugly and downright nasty.  Humor and satire in print are rare ingredients in the political conversation mix today.

How desperately we miss the wisdom and wit of the late Molly Ivins, who died in 2007 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer.  For any woman who has struggled with the horror of breast cancer treatments, no better summation could be found than what Molly said: “First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

Born in California, but raised in Texas, Ivins had a sharp political wit second to none and her pursuit of populist ideals was relentless.  She received her undergraduate degree from Smith College, and her Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University in 1967.  She worked at dailies from New York to Minnesota to Colorado covering politics in her inimitable fashion.  Link here for great eulogies from the Dallas Observer and The New York Times for deeper insights into this remarkable woman who embodied honesty, a passion for life and a love of country.

Molly came from the same genre as John Henry Faulk and Jim Hightower – Texas liberals and progressives (yes, they once did dominate the political landscape of the Lone Star State).  Although she had a national following, with a syndicated column and having worked for The New York Times, Newsweek and Time, her heart and soul was Texas politics.

In addition to book compilations of her brilliant, hilarious columns, she co-authored, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America.  She was working on a book documenting the Bush administration’s assault on the Bill of Rights when she died.  She once said of George W. Bush:  “Calling Bush shallow is like calling a dwarf short.”  Or adding this:  “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”

She famously nicknamed Texas Governor Rick Perry, Governor Good Hair. And her unrelenting commentaries on Tom DeLay (Texas Congressman and former Speaker of the House), foreshadowed his fall from grace and eventual conviction for money laundering in 2011.  In 1999, Ivins wrote of DeLay:

“His real constituency is the lobbying corps, and the sleazy smell that rises from their vigorous cooperation is another reason for DeLay’s vulnerability.  His motto is blunt: ‘If you want to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules.’ DeLay’s rules are upfront, apparent to anyone who cares to look.  On his desk he keeps a list of the 400 largest political action committees and the amounts and percentages they’ve contributed to Republicans and Democrats.  Those committees that have given heavily to the GOP are labeled ‘friendly,’ the others ‘unfriendly.’  He also pressures corporations and trade groups to fire Democrats and hire Republicans as their lobbyists.”

Her belief in the constitution and in people to reclaim their role as active citizens was unrelenting and dominated much of her later writings.  Her introduction to Who Let The Dogs In?, written in 2004 (after the country re-elected George W. Bush and was in the midst of the Iraq War which she vehemently opposed) expresses her frustration and her hope.

“I guess the most amazing refrain is that I still love politics, and I think politics matters to every American in more ways than most of them ever guess.  Also, I still think it’s funny.  I consider that especially moving testimony, given that American politics is in a state of open corruption and intellectual rot.

“Because I have been writing about politics for 40 years, I know where the cynicism comes from, and I would not presume to tell you it is misplaced.  The system is so screwed up, if you think it’s not worth participating in, then give yourself credit for being alert.  But not for being smart.  How smart is it to throw away the most magnificent political legacy any people ever received? 

“You can not only vote, you can register other people to vote, round up your friends, get out and do political education, talk to people, laugh with people, call the radio, write the paper, write your elected representatives, use your email list, put up signs, march, volunteer and raise hell…We won the cold war after 50 years, and suddenly our politics is sour, angry, ugly, full of people who can’t discuss public affairs without getting all red in the face….

“Plenty of blame to go around for this revolting development, but those who deliberately corrupt our language for political advantage deserve some special ring in hell.  One is Rush Limbaugh, a silly man.  Another is Newt Gingrich, who has done much to poison the well of public debate…

“But I think the far more damaging is the planned, corporately funded, interlocking web of propaganda – the think tanks underwritten by corporate funders, the ‘academic journals’ underwritten by corporate funders, and right wing newspapers, radio, and television not to mention low-life, bottom feeding scandal mongers, all funded by huge right-wing money… 

“Benito Mussolini, who knew whereof he spoke, said, ‘Fascism should more properly be called corporation, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.’  So Stanley, a fine mess you’ve gotten us into this time…(but) Rejoice beloveds, we’ll weather this brush with fascism and come out as noisy and as badly behaved as ever, our politics back to the usual national Roller Derby.  As Marianne Moore said, ‘It is an honor to witness so much confusion.”

Fighting with her pen until the end, one of her final columns continued her unabashed opposition to George Bush’s Iraq war:

“We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war.  We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!’

With the Occupy Movement gearing up for another run at corporate greed and opposition to war, one knows that the spirit of Molly Ivins will be with them, every step of the way.