Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bullets and Ballots

NPR's Linton Weeks reports that guns are very big with politicians in both parties this year.

I find that stunning, and I'm not really sure why. I mean, I know that conservatism is enjoying something of a revival in America. Poll after poll, after all, has suggested that there is considerable backlash against Democrats/liberals/progressives — and that seems likely to be confirmed when the votes are counted in November.

But guns aren't political props for Republicans only.

Some Democrats, as Weeks observes, are using guns to make the case that they are in touch with their constituents' concerns. Of course, macho posturing doesn't always work. Just ask Michael Dukakis.

Others — those who, presumably, can't bring themselves to hold a gun even when posing for a publicity photo — are already busily pointing their fingers at potential fall guys in anticipation of what is to come.

And many in the media are enabling them by coming up with scapegoats well ahead of time. Heck, it isn't even Labor Day yet.

"The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown," writes Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, "with the right spreading fear and disinformation that is amplified by the poisonous echo chamber that is the modern media environment."

She then goes on to defend Barack Obama against the religious prejudice that has been stirred up by the mosque near ground zero controversy — never once acknowledging that Obama, as he tends to do, jumped into an argument that really is not something to which a president with a bad economy, soaring unemployment and two unpopular wars to resolve should devote even a fraction of his attention.

Of course, the same thing could have been said of Obama's so–called "beer summit" a year ago. Or his highly publicized NCAA tournament selections a little more than a month after he took office. Diversions at best. Distractions at worst.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that, even in the best of times (which these clearly are not), a president doesn't need to be weighing in on this kind of an issue. In fact, I would think that the last thing a president whose religious affiliation is, at best, confused by many Americans — and whose middle name has an ominously Muslim sound for Western ears — would want to do is wade into a no–win argument like this in the middle of a bleak midterm election campaign.

Obama, Dowd writes, is "[t]oo lofty to pay heed to the daily bump and grind of politics." That may be, but he'd better develop more of a taste for it — and an appreciation for how the game is played — if he really wants to be more than a one–termer.

I get the sense that Dowd is beginning to understand this, however grudgingly. In Dowd's world, it's all a big misunderstanding, and I guess it will stay that way, even after November, whatever those midterms may bring.

"Obama has failed to present himself as someone with the common touch," Dowd writes. "And to the extent that people don't know him or don't get him, he becomes easier to demonize."

So, apparently, we're back to blame again — but not blame for Obama. Nothing is ever his fault. The blame is for those who "don't get him." Maybe they're stupid. Maybe the problem is that they "cling" to guns and religion because they feel they've been abandoned by their leaders.

Voters do understand guns and religion. Those two things have been winning elections for candidates in both parties for many years. A good political strategist knows there are more votes to be gained than lost when you whip up a frenzy over either one.

As much as Dowd and other Obama defenders may want to believe that this demonizing is racist or, perhaps, the result of religious bigotry, demonization has been part of American politics for a long, long time.

If Mo didn't know that, where the heck has she been?

Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to calm a frightened nation by telling it that the only thing it had to fear was fear itself. But fear comes in many packages, and the politicians who can exploit it the best, particularly during bad times, are usually the ones who are the most successful.

Americans are fearful today. Politicians in both parties understand this. Why else would they incorporate guns into their campaigns?

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