Progressives, How Did That Rush to Legislate Work Out for You?

Some people seem to think that, if I urge calming down, in the wake of Sandy Hook, before legislating in response to it, I am really just trying to delay better gun control forever. Well, no.

But since it is often self-described progressives who are most enthusiastic about better gun control, those of them who wish to use the emotions of this massacre to push through some legislation might consider an earlier time when a high-emotion event was used to push through someone's pre-existing legislative agenda because, by God, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING, and don't you care about murder victims?!

I'm talking about a little piece of legislation called The Patriot Act, a huge bill giving those who wanted vastly expanded law enforcement powers a laundry list of goodies they had already desired well before 9/11, passed by Congress barely a month after the attacks, and clearly passed without anyone in Congress having had time to read the whole bill.

Do you really think it was better that we JUST DID SOMETHING than that we, for instance, appointed a high-level commission to study what happened for six or eight months, and declared that only when their report was in would Congress consider any legislation? Whatever passed after some months of study might have still been bad, but do any progressives really think it could have been worse than The Patriot Act?

Do you remember when you were a kid and you were ready to explode? What did your mother tell you? "First count to ten before you do anything."

Really, all I am saying is that commonsense advice applies even more so to legislation, which is harder to undo than an angry curse or a punch.


  1. Unfortunately, many of them don't seem to care about it, now that Bush is out of office.

  2. You are right of course, but the gun control fight is not about guns and victims at all. It is about culture, and whose cultural preferences should determine how the nation looks in thew world.

    I think one of the best things ever said about US politics is what I call Vidal's Law: "Presidents are the men we choose to do the commercials." It's wrong in the way Gore Vidal (and Bob Murphy) meant it, that the choice of president is unimportant. It's accidentally profound, because it captures just what most people care about in a president. It's the real reason Bush was hated -- not his policies (Bob rightly notes an example) -- but his church going hick mangled syntax and his dopey expression.

  3. I’m not a gun guy, I’ve never shot or even held a gun in my hand. In fact, I friggin hate guns and as a New Yorker, I do not understand gun culture *at all*. But a lot of this sounds like culture war to me, and those whose voices are now the loudest are typically those who have invested the most in this “battle for America’s soul” (and seem to genuinely hate the “other side”, e.g., Brian Leiter). For example, Ezra Klein complains that if terrorists were detonating bombs then Congress would be working feverishly to increase security measures. it doesn’t seem too difficult to predict how pop political reaction would go: one side would be crying out “I told you! You liberal wussies and your naïve Quixotic ‘we should just talk to and hug our enemies’! Let’s get ‘dem damn terhurists! We need to respond now! Patriot Act 2.0!! Rabble rabble rabble rabble!!!” The other side would respond “well, hold on now, let’s think. Times of emergency and war are the most important times to uphold civil rights, and what we really need to figure out is *why* these people are driven to commit these heinous acts. Perhaps U.S. foreign policy has something to do with it (eh hem, oil corporatey corporate corporatists).” And the obvious reply: “we need to do something *now* not sit on a headshrinker’s couch crying about why he did it! You hate Amer-ee-ca!!”

    With random violence by gun, you can flip it, and the reactions are predictable. One side cries out “I told you! You and your stupid red-neck gun culture!! We need to respond now!!! Ban it, ban it all!! Rabble rabble rabble rabble!!!” The other side responds “well, hold on now, let’s slow down, give people time to morn. Besides, times of emergency are the worst times to pass laws that infringe on our civil rights, and what we really need to figure out is *why* these people are driven to commit these heinous acts. Perhaps it has something to do with the decline of family values and communal solidarity (eh hem, family structure and child rearing guided by stupid deconstructivist postmodern social theory)?” And the obvious reply: “we need to do something *now*, not sit around praying and worrying about gun rights!! You’re a moral monster!!”

    I have no answers and I dont know what to believe, but I’m hesitant to trust either side in these discussions. Both seem inclined to believe what they believe, and these beliefs are not guided by any sort of scientific evidence or rational thought, but culturally-motivated cognition. One side is more likely to believe one theory and the other side another based on whether it fits their culturally structured world view.

    1. Well, at least I'm saying slow down in both cases!

      You live in NYC?

    2. I lived and worked in NYC as an attorney for 5 years (Cobble Hill for a bit, then East Village for 4+ years), born and raised on Long Island. But recently relocated to New Brunswick (yeah, New Jersey). I left legal practice to pursue philosophy, first LLM in Legal Theory at NYU Law, now a PhD in philosophy at Penn. My wife still works in Manhattan, so New Brunswick it is. I guess “I’m a New Yorker” is a bit misleading.


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