Healthy Debate Doesn't Involve Threat Of Guns
By RICHARD COHEN
Monday, September 21, 2009
Try a thought experiment: What would conservatives have said if a group of loud, scruffy leftists had brought guns to the public events of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush?
How would our friends on the right have reacted to someone at a Reagan or a Bush speech carrying a sign that read:
"It's time to water the tree of liberty"?
That would be a reference to Thomas Jefferson's declaration that the tree "must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
Pardon me, but I don't think conservatives would have spoken out in defense of the right of every American Marxist to bear arms or to shed the blood of tyrants.
In fact, the Bush folks didn't like any dissent at all. Recall the 2004 incident in which a distraught mother whose son was killed in Iraq was arrested for protesting at a rally in New Jersey for first lady Laura Bush. The detained woman wasn't even armed. Maybe if she had been, the gun lobby would have defended her.
The Obama White House purports to be open to the idea of guns outside the president's appearances. "There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally," Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday. "Those laws don't change when the president comes to your state or locality."
Gibbs made you think of the old line about the liberal who is so open-minded he can't even take his own side in an argument.
What needs to be addressed is not the legal question, but the message that the gun-toters are sending.
This is not about the politics of populism. It's about the politics of the jackboot. It's not about an opposition that has every right to free expression. It's about an angry minority engaging in intimidation backed by the threat of violence.
There is a philosophical issue here that gets buried under the fear that so many politicians and media types have of seeming to be out of touch with the so-called American heartland.
The simple fact is that an armed citizenry is not the basis for our freedoms. Our freedoms rest on a moral consensus, enshrined in law, that in a democratic republic we work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument.
Free elections and open debate are not rooted in violence or the threat of violence. They are precisely the alternative to violence, and guns have no place in them.
On the contrary, violence and the threat of violence have always been used by those who wanted to bypass democratic procedures and the rule of law. Lynching was the act of those who refused to let the legal system do its work. Guns were used on election days in the Deep South during and after Reconstruction to intimidate black voters and take control of state governments.
Yes, I have raised the racial issue, and it is profoundly troubling that firearms should begin to appear with some frequency at a president's public events only now, when the president is black.
Race is not the only thing at stake here, and I have no knowledge of the personal motivations of those carrying the weapons. But our country has a tortured history on these questions, and we need to be honest about it. Those with the guns should know what memories they are stirring.
And will someone please tell the armed demonstrators how foolish and lawless they make our country look in the eyes of so much of the world? Are we not the country that urges other nations to see the merits of the ballot over the bullet?
All this is taking place as the country debates the president's health care proposal. There is much that is disturbing in that discussion. Shouting down speakers is never a good thing, and many lies are being told about the contents of the health care bills. The lies should be confronted, but freedom involves a lot of commotion and an open contest of ideas, even when some of the parties say things that aren't true and act in less-than- civil ways.
Yet if we can't draw the line at the threat of violence, democracy begins to disintegrate. Power, not reason, becomes the stuff of political life. Will some group of responsible conservatives, preferably life members of the NRA, have the decency to urge their followers to leave their guns at home when they go out to protest the president? Is that too much to ask?
"Let me introduce you to my leetle friend."
I read your editorial with great interest. I hope you understand that what I am about to say comes strictly from an avuncular, friendly uncle sort of perspective. You see, you really don't know what you don't know about this subject. I will try to keep you safe by explaining.
A. We ain't "Bush Folks." Most of us Tea Partiers don't listen to the sell-out GOP or their lap dog the NRA anymore. Haven't for years. The misnamed PATRIOT Act did it for most of us. The rest of us were alienated by their corruption, by their failure to enforce our borders, by their growing government, enlarging debt beyond sanity and finally by printing money to do it all. We took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. In our eyes, Clinton was a skirt-chasing domestic enemy, Bush was an affable, badly misguided pretend-conservative domestic enemy, and now true believer Obama jumps into the tyrannical vehicle they constructed and has his foot on the gas, peeling the tires, headed straight for us -- and our kids and any future they might have had. Pardon us if we try to throw a few caltrops in the road to slow him down. The GOP laid down the predicate for Obama just as the Weimar Republic did for Hitler. Ergo, by politically defeating the GOP and NRA's corrupt arrangement and driving them effectively from the field, you no longer have them to protect you from us. You have us surrounded, you poor bastards. You are finding out what it is to deal with us directly and you don't like it one bit. Perfectly understandable.
B. We don't wear jackboots, government employees do. This isn't about left or right, which is a false dichotomy anyway, invented by collectivists to advertise their alleged opposition to other collectivists. What is the functional difference between communists and Nazis? They both like to stack up bodies, just for different reasons. And a socialist is a communist who hasn't yet figured out where they keep the guns. We Tea Partiers are for individual liberty, free men and women and free markets. We are for the ordered liberty of the constitutional republican variety, the right to property and the rule of law. You remember the rule of law, surely? You know, the thing Obama threw out when he seized GM and Chrysler, stiffed the secured creditors and gave their money to his crony friends, the auto unions? Michael Barone called that "gangster government," and rightly so. But do you know what the Founders' prescription was for gangster government? Armed citizens.
Now, I understand how you mistake the measure of the people you are messing with, I really do. First, this has become a matter of irreconcilable world views. You worship "democracy," literally "majority rule." We revere the Republic of the Founders, who, by the way, hated mob rule as much as they hated royal despotism. Avid students of history, they understood that unrestrained democracy was three wolves and a sheep, sitting down to vote on what to have for dinner. In a republic, the sheep is off the menu, and personally armed to make sure the wolves don't lose their sense of perspective when the sheepdog isn't around. But, as I say, this is a matter of conflicting world views, so you can't see this from our point of view and we, being students of history ourselves, refuse to let you persuade us that yours is anything but a suicide pact for us.
C. If you really think "an armed citizenry is not the basis for our freedoms," keep pushing us back from ours and watch what happens. You say, "our freedoms rest on a moral consensus, enshrined in law, that in a democratic republic we work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument." First, I'm glad to see you still know how to use the word "republic" in a sentence, as if that means anything. The world is replete with "democratic republics" run by jackbooted thugs whose only "consensus" and "reasoning" comes from a state monopoly on the use of force. This is proven by how deep they dig the mass graves of their opponents and how high they stack the bodies. And, by the way, you ARE the same guys who your Fearless Lightworker proclaimed that now that the anointed had won the election that it was time for the rest of us to shut up, get out of the way and like it, aren't you? Does that sound like "moral consensus" and "reasoned argument" to you? Well, it sounds more like the rapist's command to us. Did you really forget it was Americans you were talking to?
D. Finally, I want to deal with this race canard you folks always wrap around every failing argument. There was a sign I saw at the 9-12 demonstration in DC (yes, I was one of the alleged "tens of thousands" you media folks couldn't count) that read, "I don't hate Obama because he's black, I hate him because he's red." Precisely. The only folks in this country who are as obsessed about race worse than a 1930s Nazi Gauleiter from Lower Saxony, is an American liberal of the 21st Century. But that club loses its sting when we cease to care about it. Take me for example. I've fought neo-Nazis and Kluxers all my life, at street level where you risk quite a bit more than your "journalistic reputation." In the '90s, when the Clinton Administration was strangely sheltering certain members of the Aryan Republican Army bank robbery gang, letting them walk the streets of Philadelphia armed and unmolested, me and my militia friends embarrassed the FBI into arresting them by posting notices, "Unwanted by the FBI." Think I'm lying? Google "Michael Brescia" and my name and see what pops up. Call ME a racist to my face and I'll punch you in the nose.
You hypocritical hothouse lily liberals disgust me. There is no one more racist than an American liberal. Why, it was armed black men in the Sixties -- the Deacons for Defense and the Panthers -- who scared you into passing the Gun Control Act of 1968. Why did you then focus on so-called "Saturday Night Specials?" I'll tell you why. Because they were the inexpensive pistols used by poor inner city folks to defend themselves from the thugs that Great Society welfare programs had set amongst them and empowered. Gun control is racist at its core. It always has been since the first slave codes disarmed slaves and free blacks alike. And you call US racist?
But here's the thing. As this is all about diametrically opposed world views, I don't expect you to get any of this. I told you all of the above to tell you this. When a black man, a citizen, shows up carrying an AR-15 at an Arizona town hall, the sound you're missing is the rattlesnake's buzz. When a grandma who's never been in a demonstration in her life, carries a sign to her nation's capitol that says, "Don't make me come back here with my rifle," the message you're ignoring is the quintessential American sentiment, "Don't tread on me." And when firearms owners like me tell you we will NOT obey any further laws that restrict our liberty, steal our property or threaten our lives or those of our children -- and that by our refusal we will force you to try to work your will upon us, even at the point of a government gun -- you are hearing the equivalent of a wolverine's growl.
You know, my Michigan farmer grandpa once told me why he didn't argue too much with my grandmother. "Son, let me tell you something," he cautioned, "You don't poke a wolverine with a sharp stick unless you want your balls ripped off."
How do you like YOUR balls, Mr. Cohen? Attached, or detached?
Then maybe you and the regime you support better drop the stick and ease on up out of our faces.
Don't start nothin', won't be nothin'.
We've been poked enough these last 75 years, and we've always backed up, grumbling. No more.
You don't have the GOP and the NRA to protect you anymore, Mr. Cohen.
It's just you and the wolverine.
Like I asked before, how do you like your balls?
Now, that's what I call a "healthy debate."
How 'bout you?
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