April 14, 2008

Clinging to Guns?

Greetings all.  Some of you may know me from my blog, http://www.mansizedtarget.com.

Obama displays a typical leftist sleight of hand in his suggestion that economic dislocation is causing people to “cling to their guns.”  For the Obamas of the world, the burden of proof is on the gun-owner who “clings” to his guns, even though gun control would represent a significant change from the status quo.  For Obama, the gun-toter’s defense of his established way of life is suspect and irrational, borne of confusion about the structural factors leading to the workingman’s declining economic fortunes. The burden of proof is now on the gun owner to keep on doing what he has always done, because tradition carries no weight with the left.  If anything, for the left, it is a rebutable presumption that traditions should be bulldozed by fashionable ideas, whether those ideas are gun control or government-provided healthcare.

This kind of leftism is a species of what Oakeshott called rationalism. For the rationalist ideologue, ideas are defensible only insofar as they fit into an ideological system. What has always been done and worked well enough is irrelevant.  Everything shall be held up to examination before a neat formula that abstracts from (and thus distorts) actual experience. Pace Andrew Sullivan, this characteristic approach of Obama is not Burkean so much as it is Fabian.  Obama’s vaunted prudence consists only of his measured movements toward a pre-planned future where the economy, private life, and ordinary human attachments will be subordinated to the principles of nondiscrimination and technocratic guidance.  Far from clinging to their guns for irrational reasons, Pennsylvanians and other country people take their guns seriously because people like Obama ultimately want to take them away, and the Obamas of the world want to do this so that they can more easily interfere with the self-sufficient way of life that rural people hold dear.

In the nineties, Bill Clinton and other “centrist” Democrats aimed unsuccessfully to make gun control a viable wedge issue.  Obama surely wants voters to forget that he was in the forefront of this nonsense, calling at one point for a handgun ban. Democratic strategists reasoned that even if suburban dads liked the Republicans’ promise of low taxes, their wives were alienated by their overly masculine attachment to guns and the death penalty.  There is some truth to this.  Women probably do favor gun control more than men.  This is, after all, the generation of mothers that ushered in bicycle helmets and the widespread imposition of mind-altering drugs upon youngsters.  But blue collar Reagan Democrats thought differently than their suburban cousins, and these blue collar whites remain the perennial swing voters.  It turned out, they cared a lot more about guns than dubious promises of universal health care.  After all, you can count on a gun to work if you keep it clean. The same can’t be said for the promises of the federal government.

Consider the radical symbolism of the blue collar “Union Jack”:  the POW-MIA flag.  This flag—seen at biker rallies and whiskey bars throughout the South and rural Midwest—makes an extreme indictment.  It says, in effect, that the U.S. government sold out its servicemen in Southeast Asia to expedite a face-saving peace treaty with North Vietnam.  Honorable men who did their duty were left behind to fulfill political goals.  Setting aside the truth or falsehood of this charge, it should be obvious that this cohort of Americans is not going to be trading their guns for a government promise of any kind.  They are as skeptical of the government as they are of big corporations.  Indeed, the government’s sorry history of mistreating veterans, not least in the notorious Veterans Administration healthcare system, further reinforces their self-reliant ethos.  They may not be Republicans, but they sure as hell aren’t Democrats.  And their attachment to guns—something that works, something that is useful, and something that declares manly independence in a world buffeted by mysterious economic forces—is even further in spirit from Obama’s leftism than the crusading “creedal nation” formulae embraced by many of today’s “conservatives.”

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