A Good Man

From Kathryn Jean Lopez:

I just read the e-book by Jonathan Martin and Glenn Thrush from Politico about the end of the 2012 presidential election campaign. As someone who hasn’t fully recovered from the loss, I was appreciative of these two facts included:

1. After the 47 percent video was revealed: “Romney knew it was a disaster. He felt so bad about his remarks that he sent an email to some of his senior aides taking responsibility for the damage he had caused and apologizing.”

2. After Chris Christie appeared with the president following Hurricane Sandy, Romney said to advisers, according to aide recollections cited in the book: “Guys, he’s the governor of the state — he’s got to do what’s best for his state.”

It’s not a strategy point or breaking news, but: He’s a good man, that Mitt Romney. And I’ll always be grateful for good men who are still willing to bother with politics.

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The Massacre of the Innocents

From Mark Steyn:

‘Lullay, Thou little tiny Child, by by, lully, lullay . . . ”

The 16th-century Coventry Carol, a mother’s lament for her lost son, is the only song of the season about the other children of Christmas — the first-born of Bethlehem, slaughtered on Herod’s orders after the Magi brought him the not-so-glad tidings that an infant of that city would grow up to be King of the Jews. As Matthew tells it, even in a story of miraculous birth, in the midst of life is death. The Massacre of the Innocents loomed large over the Christian imagination: In Rubens’s two renderings, he fills the canvas with spear-wielding killers, wailing mothers, and dead babies, a snapshot, one assumes, of the vaster, bloodier body count beyond the frame. Then a century ago the Catholic Encyclopedia started digging into the numbers. The estimated population of Bethlehem at that time was around a thousand, which would put the toll of first-born sons under the age of two murdered by King Herod at approximately 20 — or about the same number of dead children as one school shooting on a December morning in Connecticut. “Every man a king,” promised Huey Long. And, if it doesn’t quite work out like that, well, every man his own Herod.

Had my child been among the dead of December 14, I don’t know that I would ever again trust the contours of the world. The years go by, and you’re sitting in a coffee shop with a neighbor, and out of the corner of your eye a guy walks in who looks a little goofy and is maybe muttering to himself: Is he just a harmless oddball — or the prelude to horror? The bedrock of life has been shattered, and ever after you’re walking on a wobbling carpet with nothing underneath. For a parent to bury a child offends against the natural order — at least in an age that has conquered childhood mortality. For a parent to bury a child at Christmas taints the day forever, and mocks its meaning.

For those untouched by death this Christmas, someone else’s bewildering, shattering turn of fate ought to occasion a little modesty and circumspection. Instead, even by its usual execrable standards, the public discourse post-Newtown has been stupid and contemptible. The Left now seizes on every atrocity as a cudgel to beat whatever happens to be the Right’s current hottest brand: Tucson, Ariz., was something to do with Sarah Palin’s use of metaphor and other common literary devices — or “toxic rhetoric,” as Paul Krugman put it; Aurora, Colo., was something to do with the Tea Party, according to Brian Ross of ABC News. Since the humiliations of November, the Right no longer has any hot brands, so this time round the biens pensants have fallen back on “gun culture.” Dimwit hacks bandy terms like “assault weapon,” “assault rifle,” “semiautomatic,” and “automatic weapon” in endlessly interchangeable but ever more terrifying accumulations of high-tech state-of-the-art killing power. As the comedian Andy Borowitz tweeted, “When the 2nd Amendment was written the most lethal gun available was the musket.”

Actually, the semiautomatic is a 19th-century technology, first produced in 1885. That’s just under half a century after the death of Madison, the Second Amendment’s author, and rather nearer to the Founding Fathers’ time than our own. And the Founders were under fewer illusions about the fragility of society than Hollywood funnymen: On July 25,1764, four Lenape Indians walked into a one-room schoolhouse in colonial Pennsylvania and killed Enoch Brown and ten of his pupils. One child survived, scalped and demented to the end of his days.

Nor am I persuaded by the Right’s emphasis on preemptive mental-health care. It’s true that, if your first reaction on hearing breaking news of this kind is to assume the perpetrator is a male dweeb in his early twenties with poor socialization skills, you’re unlikely to be wrong. But, in a society with ever fewer behavioral norms, who’s to say what’s odd? On 9/11, the agent at the check-in desk reckoned Mohamed Atta and his chums were a bit strange but banished the thought as shameful and discriminatory. In a politically correct world, vigilance is a fool’s errand. The US Airways cabin crew who got the “flying imams” bounced from a Minneapolis plane for flamboyantly, intimidatingly wacky behavior (praying loudly, fanning out to occupy all the exit rows, asking for seatbelt extenders they didn’t need) wound up in sensitivity-training hell. If a lesbian thinks dragging your wife around in a head-to-toe body bag is kinda weird, she’s being “Islamophobic.” If a Muslim thinks taking breast hormones and amputating your penis is a little off, he’s “transphobic.” These very terms make the point that, in our society, finding somebody else odd is itself a form of mental illness. In an unmoored age, what’s not odd? Once upon a time, TV viewers from distant states descending on a Connecticut town to attend multiple funerals of children they don’t know might have struck some of us as, at best, unseemly and, at worst, deeply creepy — a Feast of the Holy Innocents, so to speak.

Okay, what about restricting it to wishing murderous ill upon someone? In her own response to the Sandy Hook slaughter, the novelist Joyce Carol Oates tweeted that hopes for gun control would be greatly advanced “if sizable numbers of NRA members become gun-victims.” Who’s to know when violent fantasies on social media prefigure a loner getting ready to mow down the kindergarten or just a critically acclaimed liberal novelist amusing her friends before the PEN Awards cocktail party? As it is, in American schools, mental-health referral for “oppositional defiance disorder” and the like is a bureaucratic coding racket designed to access federal gravy. Absent widely accepted cultural enforcers, any legislative reforms would quickly decay into just another capricious boondoggle.

It would not be imprudent to expect that an ever broker America, with more divorce, fewer fathers, the abolition of almost all social restraints, and a revoltingly desensitized culture, will produce more young men who fall through the cracks. But, in the face of murder as extraordinarily wicked as that of Newtown, we should know enough to pause before reaching for our usual tired tropes. So I will save my own personal theories, no doubt as ignorant and irrelevant as everybody else’s, until after Christmas — except to note that the media’s stampede for meaning in massacre this last week overlooks the obvious: that the central meaning of these acts is that they are without meaning. Herod and the Pennsylvania Indians murdered children in pursuit of crude political goals; the infanticidal maniac of Sandy Hook was merely conscripting grade-school extras for a hollow act of public suicide. Like most mass shootings, his was an exercise in hyper-narcissism — 19th-century technology in the service of a very contemporary sensibility.

Meanwhile, the atheists have put up a new poster in Times Square: Underneath a picture of Santa, “Keep the Merry”; underneath a picture of Christ, “Dump the Myth.” But in our time even Christians have dumped a lot of the myth while keeping the merry: Jesus, lambs, shepherds, yes; the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, kind of a downer. If the Christmas story is a myth, it’s a perfectly constructed one, rooting the Savior’s divinity in the miracle of His birth but unblinkered, in Matthew’s account of Herod’s response, about man’s darker impulses:

Then woe is me
Poor Child, for Thee
And ever mourn and may
For Thy parting
Nor say nor sing
By by, lully, lullay.

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Grieve First, Then Make Decisions

From Jon Caldera:

As you may know, I lost my daughter Parker, my only child at the time, to cancer just days before her first birthday. I cannot express the pure terror of that experience. The reality of shopping for a coffin and choosing a burial plot for your only child is a horror that is thankfully rare in modern America.

It is with this personal experience I have a special sensitivity to what the families in Newtown, Connecticut, are now suffering. I lost my child to illness, and at least had the opportunity to try to comfort her and tell her how much I love her. The families of Newtown had no such luxury, no such last goodbye.

For the last decade, I have had an internal battle trying to understand why God or nature would cause my little girl to suffer so. But for these families, that internal struggle will be greatly expanded. How does a parent even begin to comprehend why another human would steal away their child in such a way?

With a dead child and a son now living with Down syndrome I have lived through experiences I despise. Even so, I cannot begin to imagine the hurt and raw fear that these people are now forced to endure. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

I have learned something of grief, and the long, slow process it takes. Fortunately, there were many dear friends, family, and professionals to help me steer my way through it. Grief may be delayed somewhat, but it never can be avoided. And it is a bitch.

In the immediate madness after my daughter’s death I had little hope, and thoughts of drastic actions filled my mind. A counselor with special expertise in grieving was quite stern with me. Under no circumstances was I to make any major changes in my life for at least a year. Simply, there was no way I, or anyone in my situation, could see reality clearly enough and calmly enough to weigh important decisions.

I wasn’t to kill myself, quit my job, move away, squander my savings, start doing drugs, or anything for at least a year. And I so desperately wanted to do all those things at different times. She insisted I wasn’t to allow the pain and madness drive a decision that would be hard or impossible to undo if it was wrong.

Grieve first, then make decisions — not the other way around.

This advice not to make decisions during such pain is echoing through my body today as strongly as it did when I wanted to take all those insane actions myself. If I had gone down even one of those paths, it would have been a massive mistake. I see that now. My counselor was right. I can’t thank her enough.

I fear that we, collectively, are not wise enough to take this advice today. And we so need to. In the immediate pain and madness of this crime, the desire to do something, something big, something different, is nearly overwhelming, uncontrollable. I know what this feels like all too well. It feels like it makes all the sense in the world to ban certain firearms, throw restrictions on the law-abiding, disarm civilians, turn ourselves against the Bill of Rights, just as my desires made perfect sense to me during my time of pain.

But given my experience, I worry where we will find ourselves years from now if we allow grief and the madness of pain to take us down a path from which we can’t return. Let us grieve. Let us walk through the pain and hurt and fear. Clear thinking will return, in time. Then let us talk clearly and calmly about the serious decisions that might change us forever.

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The Difficult Response

From Charles C.W. Cooke:

After a man walked into a British elementary school in 1996 and killed 17 people, the British government summarily banned handguns. After yesterday’s massacre at Newtown, some in America would that Congress did the same here. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik wrote yesterday afternoon that “gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.” He concluded with a general call for something to be done and the execrable charge that those who oppose “gun control” were complicit in the crime. This, sadly, is a predictable response.

Arguments over the merits of gun control are made all the more difficult to navigate by the Left’s stubborn denial that we are already having a debate on the issue. Gun control propositions are by no means new, and nor is there a lack of a “national conversation on the subject.” Instead, the national conversation is ongoing, and the Left is losing it badly. Gun control advocates may talk of national soul searching and dialogue, but in truth that already exists; what they mean is that they’d like to win for a change.

The Gopniks of the world don’t tend to win, however, because their arguments are weak and because their thinking is shallow. It is quite literally unfathomable to almost every human being that a man could shoot his mother dead. It is perhaps doubly unfathomable that someone could shoot a group of little children. To have done both on the same day is nothing short of astonishing. Herein lies the essential problem for those who would radically change our constitutional order: Americans know that they could never do such things whether they had no guns or two hundred guns at their disposal. The mind of a man so ill or depraved that he is capable of an atrocity such as we saw at Newtown is not one that can be constrained by law. Nobody refrains from shooting up a school because it is illegal.

There are at least two hundred million privately owned guns in America, and Connecticut regulates access to them more strictly than most. To believe that yesterday’s crime could have been prevented, you have to presume either that a man willing to go to such grievous lengths could have been deterred from doing so by stronger laws, or that those stronger laws could rid America of privately available guns completely — thus making the killer’s task an impossible one. I believe neither thing. To pass a law is not to achieve its aims, and one suspects that any attempt at gun control in America — which outlaws and the deranged will naturally ignore — would be destined to be filed next to Prohibition and the War on Drugs in the annals of man’s folly.

American liberties, including the Second Amendment and the 40-plus state-level guarantees of the right to bear arms, pre-exist the federal government, and are defined and protected in the same document from which the state derives its authority and its structure. In a free republic, the people cannot be disarmed by the government, for they are its employers, and they did not give up their individual rights when they consented to its creation. There is no clause in our charters of liberty that allows for the people to be deprived of their freedom if and when a few individuals abuse theirs. Moreover, contrary to the rhetoric of many, America is not in the middle of a crime epidemic. As laws have been liberalized over the last forty years, crime has dropped significantly. The partial incorporation of the Second Amendment by the Supreme Court, along with the decline in public support for gun control and the passage of state-level concealed carry laws has done nothing to check this trend.

Contrarily, school shootings, such as the nauseating and heartbreaking spectacle we saw yesterday, are seemingly on the rise — as are other mass shootings, such as that which afflicted Aurora, Colo. earlier in the year. As Ezra Klein has observed, “of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007.” This is a separate problem. What is causing this is not yet known and probably underinvestigated, but it is certainly not guns. The American republic stood for almost two hundred years before the first school shooting occurred. Something is awry, to be sure; to blame guns is a mistake.

It is often glibly asserted that mine is the “easy” response. On the contrary, it is the difficult response. To shout “do something” or “ban guns” is the facile suggestion, and nonchalantly to content oneself that laws passed in a faraway city will fix society’s problems is the comforting conviction. My judgment, by contrast, is the terrifying one: To realize that there is very little than one could have done to stop yesterday’s abomination is to understand that we are sometimes powerless in the face of evil, however much we shout about it.

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