In his moving and heartfelt statement on the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Obama said, “As a country, we have been through this too many times. ... And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
There's just one problem: Our politics is a synonym for “democracy.” Through politics, people with strong feelings and interests peaceably hash out disagreements. When politicians say they want to do something regardless of the politics, they generally mean they want to do something regardless of the normal rules or what their opponents have to say or, often, the facts. This, after all, is the point of “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
I've lost my share of loved ones in recent years, though (thank God) nothing that can match what must be the soul-eating despair of the murder of a son or daughter. Still, one piece of sound advice often heard in such situations and predictably ignored in the political realm is “don't make any big decisions” in a tragedy's immediate aftermath.
Eleven years after 9/11 — another traumatic mass slaughter — how many people find the quick-started airport security system reassuring and necessary? Imposing the equivalent of TSA screening at every elementary school strikes me as an idea proposed out of panic and despair.
But, again, that's sort of the point for some. For 20 years, at least, we've been hearing about the dangers of “anger” in politics. Now, insists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, anger isn't the disease, it's the cure: “We should mourn, but we should be angry ... . The horror in Newtown ... should shake us out of the cowardice, the fear, the evasion and the opportunism that prevents our political system from acting to curb gun violence.”
Except, our political system has acted to curb gun violence. Violent crime, gun violence and school violence have all dropped dramatically over the last 20 years, even as guns' number (and lethality) has risen dramatically.
Dionne and countless others want to use fear, evasion and opportunism in the wake of this tragedy to win an argument they couldn't win when passion was in check.
A breakdown in our culture generally, and our mental health system in particular, seems to be making this kind of nihilistic mayhem possible and attractive to sick young men — a point the media should keep in mind as they provide the kind of saturation coverage such men find seductive.
I think we need better mental health screening and treatment for potential murderers. I don't know how to implement such ideas in ways that would actually work. Indeed, all I'm sure of is that we should be very careful about making big decisions when we are so angry and mourning so deeply.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book “The Tyranny of Clichés.”
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