Why Have Progressives Abandoned Gun Control? A Really Boring Answer

In the wake of the Colorado horrors, lots of people want to know why gun control is not on the national agenda, with the usual responses about feckless liberals.  While I certainly never hesitate to castigate the invertebracy of progressives, I think that there is a simpler answer:

Violent crime went down.

Crime rates are at lows not seen since the early 1960’s.  Even in the era of shrinking police budgets, violent crimes are sharply down from their heights in the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s.  It makes sense to try to solve the problems you have, not the problems that you used to have.  (I should quickly add that this in no way should be taken to undermine Mark’s crime control research agenda, which I think is superb and should be immediately and lavishly funded!)

I think that this really highlights the often-mentioned difference between American progressives and conservatives.  Progressives are basically pragmatists, trying to solve public policy problems.  Conservatives see everything as a matter of High Principle, even when the principle itself is obscure (e.g. foaming at the mouth about “liberty” in the health care context but not caring one whit about it when it comes to surveillance, state secrets, or other civil liberties).  Progressives began to support gun control because it seemed like a useful way to reduce violence.  Despite the fantasies swirling around the fever swamps on the Right, there was no conspiracy.  Many progressives might not understand or take to gun culture, but they — we — don’t have a problem with it as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Note how this turns one of traditional calumnies against liberalism on its head.  American progressives actually don’t have abstract utopian dreams of how to engineer society.  They — we — see a problem and say: okay, how can we fix it?  It is conservatives who actually revel in abstractions, whether it was the “activity/inactivity” distinction made famous in the health care cases, or the “free market” that exists nowhere but in the imagination of the Cato Institute, or the “policy of strength” that now animates right-wing foreign policy “thinkers” totally untethered from any actual facts about the world, or even strange fears of same-sex marriage undermining traditional marriage with no notion of how that would actually work.

Of course, sensible gun controls like limiting high-capacity magazines (which might have saved lives in Colorado) or closing gun show loopholes are clearly good policy.  But they aren’t as salient because of the reduction in violence.

I wish that conditions warranted caving on all issues.  If conservatives have an actual plan to cover the uninsured, and it could actually work, I’m sure progressives would join them.  The Right would then abandon their policy.  Oh, wait: that already happened.

Rush Limbaugh

doesn’t know the difference between a slut (promiscuous) and a prostitute (seller of sex services).  Married four times and childless for any of several possible reasons, he thinks birth control pills cost more the more sex you have.  He apparently enjoys pornography, and wants it provided to him by women whose birth control is paid for by insurance.  His idea of political discourse is to slime a young woman, about whom he knows nothing (including her sexual behavior, as though that were anyone’s business in any case), as a slut because she recited facts about how denial of birth control medicine for non-contraceptive use damaged her friend.

Sandra Fluke, who has been radiating unbelievable class through this whole episode, was not a public figure when Rush took his swing, invited to testify before a Congressional panel. I hope there’s a defamation suit cooking with a lot of zeroes in it.

John Boehner managed to force himself to murmur that the Rush’s slime was “inappropriate”, and immediately vitiating even that little demurral by saying in the same sentence that Democrats shouldn’t raise money on the episode.   I’m not aware that any other Republican, of the elected or pundit varieties, has gone on record to separate himself or herself from this turd (who has been doubling down on his first bet ever since). Rush Limbaugh is the ideological and spiritual heart and soul of the Republican Party, a secular pope who brooks and receives no rebuttal or criticism from his completely cowardly adherents.

Sadly, I’m also not aware of any reporters forcing Republicans to take a stand on their leader.  Maybe on the Sunday morning shows…but I’m not getting my hopes up.

There is a move to get advertisers to pull their buys from Limbaugh’s show; good. It would not be out of order also to draw a commercial bead on Clear Channel, a company that uses Limbaugh as a device to sell ears to advertisers.  Along with the advertiser boycott, how about getting as many people as possible to promise Clear Channel that they won’t listen to any of their stations until they clean house? publicrelations@clearchannel.com…pass it on.

UPDATE:  On Wolf Blitzer this evening, Rick Santorum will apparently savage Rush unmercifully.  Going all in to raise Boehner, he will come right out and say, on national television, that what Rush said is … wait for it…”absurd”  [update 21:30 PST: it occurred this way]. With this escalation, it’s only a matter of time before Romney has to throw caution to the winds and devastate Limbaugh with regrettable…Double Wow!

UPDATE 2: I gave Romney too much credit; apparently he agrees with Rush but would have phrased the sentiment better, perhaps with a little dog-whistle obbligato.

Shorter Mitt Romney

If you think we should discuss economic inequality in anywhere but quiet rooms, then go to China — I already sent your job there.

Okay, cheap shot.  But equating any discussion of inequality with Communism as Romney did is no more than crude red-baiting.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with those who think that the exchange means that “the pressure may be getting to Romney.”  Romney’s response was a perfectly-formed paragraph, almost designed for a South Carolina primary audience.  More to the point, it succinctly distills the contemporary GOP position.  Any discussion of inequality is completely off-limits and must be squashed.  Romney wasn’t snapping at his questioner — he was coolly setting forth the ideology of the conservative elite, which has smoothly carried out its Revolution From Above over the last 30 years.




Ross Douthat on the personal and the political

A quick comment.

I just encountered today’s column by Ross Douthat:

Today, we are less divided over race, but more divided over sex and reproduction. In a country that cannot agree whether fetuses are human beings, even questions like how to mourn and bury a miscarried child are inevitably freighted with ideological significance. Likewise, in a country where the majority of Down syndrome fetuses are aborted, the mere act of carrying a child with a genetic disorder to term — as both the Palins and the Santorums, whose daughter Bella has Trisomy 18, have done — feels like a political statement….

When Palin wove special needs children into her 2008 speeches, or when Santorum featured his daughter Bella in a campaign video, they were implicitly acknowledging these personal-is-political realities.

I’m sure that some parents regard this as a political statement. It is, unavoidably, a personal and moral one, too. And, yes, liberals should give the Santorum family greater space to mourn in accordance with their own beliefs. Yet there’s an underlying assumption in Douthat’s passage that bears demands greater scrutiny. Continue reading “Ross Douthat on the personal and the political”

Bandit cable

Thre cable TV service run by crimunals in Rio´s favelas was much cheaper than its legal successors.

Last month the Rio police, supported by marines in armoured cars and a cloud of TV cameras, stormed the Rocinha favela, unopposed by the drug traffickers. Behind the media theatre, the policy of reoccupation seems to be working. Police stations are followed by social services. Tourists and banks are venturing in. Shopkeepers don´t have to pay protection any more. The favela dwellers are delighted to be freed from the rule of mobsters, right?

Up to a point, Lord Copper. They now have to pay for their electricity instead of stealing it from the street lighting cables. Tough. They also – and here I have much more sympathy – have to pay a lot more for TV. As air reception is very poor on the steep hillsides, TV was supplied over an illegal cable network, the gatonet, controlled of course by the drug gangs. The going rate was 15-30 reais a month for up to 120 channels, including the free-to-air ones that carry telenovelas and football, and hacked paying film channels. I´m quite impressed by the bandits´ technical achievement here.

A gatonet office in Bangu favela

are now being offered the service by legal providers for twice the price: 40 to 80 reais. The minimum wage in Brazil is 543 reais a month, and many favelistas will be living off less. 10% of their income just for TV!

The gatonet was provided by murderous outlaw kleptocrats, but their legal Brazilian counterparts are in this area even worse for the poor. My (non-poor) daughter in Lille pays 30 euros a month (72 reais) for 20-megabit ADSL (the slow offer!), 100 free TV channels and many others at a reasonable a la carte charge, and unlimited phone calls in France.

It´s not I think an accident that there are no low-power repeaters on Rio´s many hills to provide decent air TV reception, or that the municipality has not simply taken over the seizedgatonet and run it as a very profitable public service. There are TV satellites over Brazil, but owned by Globo and Sky (from which we buy a poor-value package). The selection of free-to-air channels is very thin. In Europe the TV satellites are owned by Astra, a Luxembourg corporation independent of the TV networks it carries, including Sky´s encrypted ones and FTA ones from the BBC, ITV, and Germany. There must be a profit opportunity in Rocinha for pirate satellite TV using hacked second-hand Sky receivers.

Brazil has the typical second-world problem of governance. It seems to lack a professional higher civil service; ministers are free to staff their fiefs with party cronies, which helps explain the high level of corruption and the serial scandals in Brasilia. In state capitals, it doesn´t even become a scandal. A technocracy can be a force for competition if it´s given a mandate. The European Commission is unideologically power-hungry, so it´s super-statist in agriculture (inheriting French policy) and strongly pro-competition in electricity and telecoms (inheriting German policy).

Lacking technocrats, it would still be possible for Brazil´s vigorous democracy to provide checks on monopolists. But the Brazilian left is typically soggy on competition. Partly it´s ideology; if you demonise all capitalists, you lose the ability to discriminate between useful and exploitative ones, and this continues when you make your peace with them. Partly it´s the organisational base: for the PT, the unions, representing a labour elite, many working for public and parastatal organisations. Monopolists can offer safe jobs with good wages. (A necessary but not a sufficient condition; see Amazon´s sweatshop warehouses.)

It´s possible for a right-wing party to be pro-competition, if it has a liberal ideology (in the European free-market sense) and a base representing small business, like Thatcher´s Conservatives or the German Free Democrats. If the losing conservative candidate in the last Brazilian general election, Jose Serra, had such a vision, he certainly didn´t articulate it.

Which brings me to the Republicans, another party of businessmen. GOP policies clearly only reflect the interests of big monopolistic corporations, not small ones. On credit card fees, the GOP backs the extortionate fees of the Visa and Mastercard duopoly (>2% per sale against 0.5% in Europe) against the interests of retailers, garage owners and Joe the Plumber. It opposed public works in a recession, a lifeline to small construction companies; and Obama´s moves towards universal health care, an obvious interest of every American employer. How many minutes a week does a Danish employer spend worrying about the health insurance of her employees, and how many staff does she pay to handle it? Zero.

Thomas Frank, in his famous What´s the matter with Kansas?, noted the ¨false consciousness¨ of Republican American workers who vote their cultural biases against their material interests. Does not the same apply to Republican small businessmen?

If conservatives think the individual mandate is totalitarian, why on earth do they back a commerce-clause case?

Libertarians and conservatives have become fond of calling the individual mandate totalitarian–or at least a gross and unconscionable deprivation of individual liberty. But if so, why are they so comfortable with the prospect of courts finding it unconstitutional only when the *federal* government imposes it?

Once in a while I have an objection to a common argument that seems so obvious that I think my logic circuits must be misfiring.  This is one of those times.

It’s become quite popular in libertarian and conservative circles to call the Affordable Care Act, and the individual mandate in particular, totalitarian.  (I must admit that Republicans have all the best totalitarian ideas.) Googling “Obamacare totalitarian” yields almost three million results. The top hits include posts on patientpowernow.org and bluecollarphilosophy.com, and this rather unhinged one on moonbattery.com. More recently there was this by the always fascinating Tim Cavanaugh at Reason.

But I just can’t understand why, given this, conservatives seem completely unfazed by the fact that the court challenges against the ACA are basically commerce clause cases.  The whole question is whether a failure to buy insurance counts as commerce so that it is within the power of Congress to regulate it. I have yet to see a serious legal argument that would place the individual mandate beyond the police powers of an individual state.  (Bruce Brown at The New Republic has pointed out that such an argument would have to rest on due process, presumably of a substantive kind, and would be very marginal in that form.)

There’s clearly some confused argumentation out there. Take this from the Wyoming Liberty Group:

If the individual mandate to purchase health insurance withstands its current court challenge and the challenge of health care freedom amendments, there will be nothing to stop the government from mandating that we drive “environmentally friendly” automobiles. After all, if the mere fact that we will eventually utilize the health care system puts us within the grasp of the Commerce Clause, then surely the fact that we will eventually drive or ride along in trucks, SUVs, Corvettes and other glorious machines on national highways does so as well. It’s only right, then, that government mandates what kind of cars we drive. Chilling.

But in addition to the oddness of the example (hate to break it to them, but the government already regulates what kinds of cars may be offered for sale, and we lack the liberty to buy one without a seatbelt), the mention of the Commerce Clause gives the game away. Nothing the Supreme Court says about the Commerce Clause, either way, will do a damn thing to protect individual liberty against a “government” that happens to be a state government. Wyoming could constitutionally compel every resident to buy a pickup truck any time it wanted to.

The prevalent conservative and libertarian constitutional position is, bluntly, this: totalitarian infringements on individual liberty are perfectly constitutional provided that a state enacts them. Whenever you hear the typical slippery-slope arguments—if this is upheld, the government can require us to buy broccoli, or wear tattoos, or drive Priuses or whatever—keep this very clearly in mind, because conservatives sure won’t. Anyone making a commerce-clause argument is already conceding that Sacramento or Nashville may constitutionally require such things. The only question is whether Washington can follow suit. The lawyers are arguing not about whether people have the liberty not to buy broccoli but about which level of government has the power to nonchalantly ram the green flowery stuff into our shopping carts. Little Brother is already watching you.

Westen vs. Chait on Obama

Keith Humphreys’ thoughtful post called to mind some thoughts I wanted to jot down after re-reading Drew Westen’s NYT piece on Obama and Jonathan Chait’s blistering response to Westen in the New Republic. Westen is surely a primary target of Keith’s scorn, and I agree with both Chait and Keith that Westen grossly exaggerates what a leader in Obama’s position could have been expected to accomplish.

Yet it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that Westen is onto something. Obama might not have been able to have achieved substantively different outcomes in many of the recent battles. But he does have the rhetorical skill to have forced Republicans to pay a much stiffer political price for their obstructionism. And his supporters can hardly be faulted for being upset that he chose not to.

Last December’s struggle about the Bush tax cuts on high-income households is a case in point. Many on the left have been bitterly critical of the president for capitulating to Republican demands on that issue. But consider the details of the choice the president faced.  Continue reading “Westen vs. Chait on Obama”

Piling on: Rick Perry’s book is bad, really.

(Cross-posted at the Century Foundation’s Taking Note)

Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein both review Texas Governor Rick Perry’s book, Fed Up! Our fight to save America from Washington.

Matt notes what he calls “The ten weirdest ideas” in that book. Many of Perry’s ideas are, indeed, weird, such as the claim that Al Gore is part of a conspiracy to deny global cooling. Yet if I were grading Matt’s review, I would be forced to deduct points for redundancy. I’m just not convinced that Matt digested this complex work with the kind of detailed textual analysis that (say) Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz applied in several ancient and modern languages to the Talmud…. Continue reading “Piling on: Rick Perry’s book is bad, really.”

Conservatives and Europe: it’s all about the secularism

Conservative references to “Europe” may sound like they’re about economics. But they’re really about religion. “Europe” means “secularism” and secularism means moral decline.

Steve Benen notes, and has long noted, that Republican references to failed economics in Europe are inconsistent. We’re supposed to decry Europe as socialist for its high-speed rail, national health insurance, and value-added taxes, but love it as hard-headed for its austerity, tight money, and nuclear energy (well, in France anyway).

Of course these references are inconsistent. But the reason to expect the inconsistency is that the conservative obsession with Europe is primarily cultural, rather than economic. Europe’s economic policies taken individually may be fine, even admirable. But “Europe” is still by definition in decline—because it isn’t Christian enough.

Continue reading “Conservatives and Europe: it’s all about the secularism”

Will social conservatives throw the anti-gay issue under the bus?

At an academic workshop on social conservatism most of the participants think gay rights is a losing issue, ripe for jettisoning. Sign of the times?

This past weekend, I attended a workshop on the future of social conservatism.  Though this was a somewhat odd experience for someone with my politics (which I stated openly), I’m determined not to get lazy by only talking to people I agree with.  In the end I learned a lot and, I hope, contributed at least a little.

What surprised me most at the conference was that more than one speaker casually referred to opposition to gay rights as a losing issue for social conservatives—one that they’d have to abandon in the foreseeable future in favor of something else. Nobody spoke up in loud dissent, and nobody called for distinguishing same-sex marriage from other gay rights issues.

Continue reading “Will social conservatives throw the anti-gay issue under the bus?”