Unabated, unabashed, and increasingly unhinged, the sordid parade continues apace. Last week, Barack Obama flew some of the Newtown families to Washington, D.C., for a rally at which he argued for the putting aside of “politics” that disagree with his own, warned against “political stunts” (presumably with the exception of the one he was performing), and declared a monopoly on “common sense.” This weekend, the president ceded the pulpit of his weekly address to Francine Wheeler, a grieving mother, so that, in the name of “doing something” that might have prevented her son’s death, she could urge the passage of a set of policies that the Left has supported for years.
Over the last three months such behavior has been common. In countless appearances, the president has suggested that the interests of “our children” and “the gun lobby” are diametrically opposed, he has brazenly maligned the intentions of those who have the temerity to disagree with him, and he has made catharsis for the families of the Newtown massacre a national priority. It has been shameless. There is, it appears, no emotional pornography that the administration will refuse to distribute in the pursuit of its agenda.
But the approach betrays a certain desperation. As Kathleen Parker observed bluntly in the Washington Post last week, “nothing proposed in the gun-control debates would have prevented the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and everybody knows it.”
Everybody does — which explains the mawkishness. The sole purpose of wheeling in innocent children, of pointing incessantly to the grief of victims of gun violence, and of relating tales of family suicide (as Harry Reid recently did on the Senate floor) is to dare your opponents to be hard-hearted enough to oppose your agenda. Instead of engaging his critics on substance, the president has done his level best to circumvent the debate by transmuting a dispute over the wisdom of new laws into an up or down vote on whether or not one is sad about gun violence.
This is cynical and grotesque, but it is also clever. What better way of deflecting criticism than by encouraging your antagonists to censor themselves? Anyone foolhardy enough to write what I am writing here knows full well that he will be accused of “attacking” grieving families. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the likes of Media Matters, whose fatuous claim that Fox News was “dismissing the voices of the families who suffered in a mass shooting in Newtown, CT by claiming they’re being used and exploited by Democrats” is sadly typical. Or Greg Sargent, who characterized Mitch McConnell as “callously rebuffing” families that wished to meet with him. Or Michael Moore, who argued that if Harry Reid’s kids were shot, he would change his mind on gun control. Moore, Media Matters, and Sargent have the same hope: that their opponents, cowed by emotional blackmail, will stay quiet, allowing the president free rein.
It makes no rational sense whatsoever to privilege the testimony of Newtown’s parents in our deliberations. The children of Sandy Hook were randomly chosen victims of abhorrent and reckless violence. It is reasonable to seek the counsel of victims if you suspect that they can help you prevent future atrocities. But we wouldn’t expect the casualties of bombings to have particular insight into how best to deal with security, nor the victims of a gas leak to shed light on the details of piping infrastructure. Cruel as it might seem to observe, you are not afforded greater insight into the legal and economic questions surrounding gun control because a bullet fired by a madman has hit you or somebody you love.
This, of course, does not mean that the victims of gun violence, or their families, should sit down and “shut up.” Far from it — they can and should say whatever they wish and they should explain the devastating consequences of gun violence. But they should not be treated as expert witnesses.
In March, when the chances of a gun bill looked remote, the president griped that the public was forgetting the scale of its outrage. Perhaps so. But if true, this is healthy. Laws that are passed in haste and designed to assuage raw emotion are almost always disastrous. (New York State’s recent debacle illustrates this perfectly.) The president is a good campaigner, and he is smart enough to know that, if he is to cram something through Congress, he has to keep the outrage levels up and the focus on grief. He thus takes the perverse position that Americans will be able to produce a proper response to what happened in Sandy Hook only if they maintain their raw emotions and keep logic out of it.
The rest of us should take the opposite approach: What America does next will be best considered in the cold light of day, and that will mean looking past “the children” — and their parents, too.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.