Some years ago when grandchildren first reared their darling little heads in my life, I started to wonder what would become of such children who were nurtured in a loving, pacifying environment as they were when they came up against the inevitable harsh realities of life…the schoolyard bully, the predatory priest, the megalomaniacal college professor, the erratic office boss…the man with a gun. How would the spirit of compromise, the desire to avoid trouble, the instinctual passivity serve them? How--armed with but power of reason, patience and tolerance instilled in them by their parents--could they measure up against the kids down the block whose parents chose to arm them at an early age with attitude and guns?
There is a strong, noble, inspiring progressive tradition of nonviolence stretching from Jesus to Martin Luther King, Jr. And parents are both good and wise to steep their children in this tradition, but there is the finest of lines between that tradition and the tradition of leading lambs to slaughter. Children who grow up knowing only that Jesus taught turning the other cheek and MLK taught deferring the dream know but part of the story. They must know that one day Jesus got angry enough to drive the moneylenders from the temple and MLK didn’t hesitate to call out the state of Alabama “with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification.”
The liberal sensibility is not inclined toward anger; it is inclined toward gestures. I have sitting in my email box at the moment an invitation from MoveOn to attend a candlelight vigil tonight and one from Daily Kos to sign a petition to ask “President Obama to help (sic) start a national conversation about gun control.” (But first let’s check in with Bob I-was-against-gun-violence-before-they-made-me-for-it Costas on how those national conversations go.)
I have nothing against gestures, certainly nothing against well-intentioned gestures, and I put both these in that category. But here’s the problem: after folks light their candles and sign their petitions, they think they really have done something, only to set themselves up for a big bad case of shock and dismay in three months when this all happens again. And it will happen again.
We, of a certain disposition, esteem one’s ability to control his or her anger. There’s an entire industry and “science” that’s grown up around anger management. We on the political left as well as those in the center generally find displays of anger distasteful and off-putting. This week, before things got really, really bad, Chris Matthews twisted himself into his usual pretzel when one of the union protesters in Michigan was caught on camera busting a Fox reporter in the chops (a nation turns its grateful eyes to you Mr. Union Man, whoever you are). Chris was embarrassed that someone on the side he was rooting for reacted with such...what's the word I'm looking for here? Oh, yeah, passion. It was reminiscent of how our cosseted media tut-tut-tutted at Obama when he finally struck back against the nonstop lies hurled his way by making a biting rhetorical flourish out of the alchemized word Romnesia on the campaign trail. There is something about the self-styled sane and civilized mind that finds anger unbecoming.
On the other hand, there are hours and hours of radio programming aimed at keeping the opposite side of the political spectrum…a well-armed segment, I might add—in a rabid junkyard dog frame of mind. Liberal talk radio fails miserably because liberals (and moderates, God bless them) do not wish to spend their precious few days on this planet barking, snarling and snapping at human beings, imaginary death panels and rotating car wheels. But those other people...they do anger with gusto. We do not want to be them…or even be like them. But in inoculating ourselves against rabies, we should not surrender our right to bark and/or bite when the occasion arises. On this gun thing? The occasion has risen so high that it is about to collapse on us like the Twin Towers. The cowards and blowhards of the NRA hide behind the fig leaf of a gun safety program (and the media and the politicians snuggle in there for cover with them). But the truth is, the primary function of the NRA today is to run a protection racket for every gun-toting, mass-murdering nutcase in America.
I do not know if I will be walking peaceably with a lighted candle tonight or signing a petition when I’m done writing this. But I do know this: the first group that asks me for money to help outlaw automatic weapons will get a check. The first politician who asks me to support concealed weapon bans in colleges, churches, and political rallies will get my vote. The first organization that asks me to support a boycott of any business that in any way, shape or form enables these mass murders to continue will get my full support. And the first NRA member--be he armed or unarmed--who tells me that guns don’t kill people, people kill people will get a fist in the fucking face.