Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Truthy dialect humour

As a troublesome child, I spent an above-average amount of time in my grade school principal's office. I remember a sign hanging on her wall, which was at first incomprehensible to me. It was a measure of my advancing education that I was eventually able to understand that the German Gothic type formed words, and that the words formed a saying in dialect German:

Ve grow too soon old und too late schmart

I recalled this yesterday, when the effort to bring a measure of reasonable gun control to this country included appeals to the moderate majority of NRA members to support such measures. Good luck with that. 

Gun control has been the mother of all wedge issues for forty years. As a person of progressive leanings, a one-time owner of firearms and (horrors!) a one-time NRA member, I've received a good deal of the vitriol thrown from the left as well as that thrown from the right. To the lefties who have indulged themselves in this fashion, I hope that you've enjoyed this. Now, more than ever, it's clear that gun control will only happen when people like me sign on to make it happen, after elements on the left have done everything possible to ensure that moderate support can't happen. It's one more reason why the left in the rest of the world constantly rolls its eyes at the painful imbecility of the left in the U.S.
Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, appeared on WGBH's Greater Boston yesterday. In the context of the eternal tension between the principles of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Margery Eagan turned the discussion to gun control.   Meacham discussed the appeal to the centre,  and how this is another case where the Declaration's timeless principles are again in conflict with the sometimes-obscure legalisms of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Moderate gun owners, he said, must choose now or at some point to separate themselves from the pro-gun extremists, in order to achieve the sort of democratic pragmatism that Meacham argues was Jefferson's genius.

It can happen, Meacham says. It has happened. He observes that 50 years ago, the NRA was a constructive force teaching firearms safety and promoting shooting sports. Lobbying was a small tail to the dog.  I can attest to this, because that was when I became involved in the NRA. In the aftermath of the assassinations of the 1960s, when more stringent gun controls were bruited, the NRA's legal stance hardened and lobbying grew to be the tail that not only wagged the dog, but made the dog disappear altogether. In the aftermath of Waco and  Ruby Ridge, its actions and stance became toxic.  After the Oklahoma City bombing, their rhetoric grew intolerably shrill and paranoid.  Meacham cited Bush 41 as one  of thousands of NRA members who resigned in protest in those years. I can attest to that also:  I was one of them. 

It would have made a great deal of sense for leftist gun control supporters to reach out to these disaffected former NRA members, but of course they did not: As I said, painful imbecility. Now, any action this critical centre takes will probably be their own. The ship of cooperation with the left may have sailed.

As I understood it at the time, the NRA was rocked by the resignations of the 1990s, but obviously not enough to change course. I suggest that the extremists by then in control persuaded themselves that it amounted to a purge of the weak-willed.

Having worked that patch for a dozen years once, I know enough about membership organisations to know that membership numbers are their Achilles' heel. Dues may not be the largest part of their income structure, but membership is the magnet that attracts corporate support. A useful centre-based strategy would be to induce NRA membership resignations in the tens, even hundreds of thousands. If I were in development for one of the smaller, related organisations, I would begin a move to the centre and a drive to recruit people disaffected by NRA extremism. If there is such a thing as Jeffersonian pragmatism, this would be it: another organisation acting simply in its own interest, and able to persuade NRA corporate supporters that it, not the NRA, represents the majority of gun owners. Competition could reduce the NRA back to what Meacham called "four people...with big megaphones."

Would it happen? On the one hand, as that sign said, Ve grow too soon old und too late schmart. On the other hand, the NRA today issued a disingenuous statement that of course it had never opposed background checks, because it is a supporter of firearms safety. Funny how that self- knowledge only occurred after recent polls showed that over 60 percent of NRA members support background checks. Even wild-eyed extremist groups apparently have cold-eyed Development departments.

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