The Dangers of Politically Inspired Moral Outrage–From Sandy Hook to What Next?

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

It is a bad idea to demonize your opponents with epithets such “shameful” and “lying,” given that the case was not made that proposed gun-control legislation would have prevented a Sandy Hook. To prevent these school-shooting horrors might require either armed guards in schools, or Draconian new laws about gratuitous screen and video-game violence, or more frequently incarcerating the mentally unstable, or, on the theory of reducing rapid rates of fire, confiscating millions of previously sold semi-automatic handguns and rifles. All those measures would have offended millions across the political spectrum in ways that demonizing the NRA apparently does not. In the end, it was not the “lying” “gun lobby” that persuaded enough senators to defeat the bill, but the president’s inability to make the argument that his proposals would help stop another Sandy Hook or Columbine.

Moreover, the current sophistry of using catastrophic current events to rush legislative agendas or build political capital is as natural as it is also dangerous — and can rebound in unexpected ways. If those who are skeptical about the legality and utility of infringing on the Second Amendment through legislative action are reduced to being slandered as shameful liars, and (if we believe what is now being written) they are in part culpable for the sort of carnage at Sandy Hook, then almost any event in the news becomes political fodder.

We are also witnessing horrors in Boston, brought about by terrorists planting bombs. Should we engage in a renewed national moral effort to make all terrorism, past and present, something that permanently earns one social ostracism, a tactic so odious that the perpetrator is a shunned, permanent moral outlier, who has sacrificed all claims on polite society? That would certainly help create a zero-tolerance climate for even the thought of placing bombs to hurt the innocent, an effort worth it, to paraphrase the president, if it might deter “just one” would-be terrorist. If so, where is the outrage in these dark days that convicted bank robber, terrorist bomber, and murderer Kathy Boudin is teaching at Columbia? (One can certainly see where this thinking leads in the case of the unrepentant terrorist bomber Bill Ayers — e.g., to a political fundraiser in his kitchen over coffee and all that.)

The evil Dr. Gosnell ran a charnel house in Philadelphia. He made a handsome living off of performing supposed late-term abortions that allegedly led to the murder of at least one mother and seven babies born alive (the most current eight charges may be the tip of a 30-year iceberg), involving the worse sort of racism, crimes against human decency, and labor and health violations in his surreally named “Women’s Medical Society.”

So should we argue that the Dr. Gosnells of the world — preying on the low-income and vulnerable, in search of profits (he certainly fits the president’s past castigation, during the debate over federalizing health care, of those medical profiteers who lop off limbs and take out organs for money) — should always count on some sort of ethical cover, media blackout, and legal laxity, given the popular culture’s and law’s ambiguous attitudes toward later-term partial-birth abortions? If so, what are the moral consequences and ethical responsibilities of being the sole Illinois legislator to speak against legislation that would have protected babies who survived late-term labor-induced abortions? Or is that theoretical connection between one’s beliefs, associations, and legislative record, and current deaths just the sort of demagoguery we wish to avoid?

If it is likely (and I think it is) that Barack Obama never believed that allowing the termination of fetuses who might survive late-term partial-birth abortion would logically lead to something like Dr. Gosnell, or that his past debatable association with a terrorist like Bill Ayers insidiously lowered the threshold of social tolerance for such politically motivated violence against the innocent, then why cannot he see that those who protect the legal rights of gun ownership by the law abiding are not responsible for the non-incarcerated mentally deranged, who feed on a diet of profit-driven, computer-screen violence, and who illegally obtain guns to commit mass murder in gun-free zones that they have deliberately so cowardly targeted?

The business of selective moral outrage is fraught with sophism and only invites nemesis. A president of all people should quit it and lower the tone.

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