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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 12, 2013

 
Good guys 'n bad guys

by digby

Rick Perlstein is now blogging over at The Nation in case you didn't know. And his stuff is as wonderful as ever.

I particularly enjoyed this piece on the evolution of the NRA --- and the modern conservative movement worldview:

In 1977, [Harlan]Carter’s faction packed the national convention in Cincinnati and effected what one of the ousted officials called a “gentlemanly bloodbath.” Said one of the coup plotters, “People who are interested in conservation can join the Sierra Club. If they’re interested in bird-watching there’s the Audubon Society. But this organization is for people who want to own and shoot guns.” Immediately the announcement went forth: “the National Rifle Association is cutting back on its conservation and wildlife programs to devote most of its energies to fighting gun control.” The next year Jack Anderson followed up: “the most extreme of the extremists have formed a tight little clique which pulls strings inside the organization. They operate with great mystery and secrecy, referring to themselves cryptically as the Federation. Let a timorous official show the slightest weakness, and his name will go down on the Federation’s secret ‘hit list.’ ”

That 1977 coup has been widely written about of late. What most of us don’t know about, however, is Ronald Reagan’s role in laying the ideological groundwork for the historical transformation.

In 1975, after eight years as governor of California, Reagan took a job delivering daily five-minute radio homilies on the issues of the day. By June of that year he was on some 300 stations. And that month, in that frighteningly persuasive Ronald Reagan way, he addressed himself in a three-part series to a new proposal by Attorney General Edward Levy to pass a gun control law specifically targeted at high-crime areas. What follows are never-before-published Reagan quotes from my own research listening to dozens of these broadcasts archived at the Hoover Institution at Stanford for the book I’m working on about the rise of Reagan in the 1970s. They show Reagan bringing the NRA hardline faction’s worldview to the broader public.

“Now, that’s funny,” he said of Levy’s proposal. “It seems to me that the best way to deter murderers and thieves is to arm law-abiding folk and not disarm them…. as news story after news story shows, if the victim is armed, he has a chance—a better chance by far than if he isn’t armed. Nobody knows in fact how many crimes are not committed because criminals know a certain store owner has a gun—and will use it.” So the attorney general of the United States, Reagan said, “should encourage homeowners and business people to purchase them and learn how to use them properly.”

He concluded that first broadcast foreshadowing so much NRA rhetoric to come: “After all, guns don’t make criminals. It’s criminals who make use of guns. They’re the ones who should be punished—not the law-abiding citizen who seeks to defend himself.”

So, despite the fact that Reagan was far less than the perfect wingnut his worshippers believe, in this he was the real thing. He was the first cheerleader for modern American gun culture. And it sounds as if he had quite an influence.

And that makes sense. After all, he came from Hollywood where our great cowboy myth was created. Perlstein shows just how thoroughly the right has absorbed that simplistic message:

Good guys, bad guys, never the twain shall meet—despite all the evidence, which I’m sure was available even then, that the people most likely to be victim of a gun in the home are people who live in that house. Or the moral evidence of the entire history of the human race: that the boundaries between “good people” and “bad people” are permeable, contingent, unknowable; and that policy-making simply can’t proceed from the axiom that one set of rules can exist for the former, and one for the latter.

Conservatives don’t think that way. For them, it’s almost as if “evildoers” glow red, like ET: everyone just knows who they are...

Most of you were here after 9/11 I assume? I think we all know what happened.

Q: Mr. President, I'm sure many Americans are wondering where all this will lead. And you've called upon the country to go back to business and to go back to normal. But you haven't called for any sacrifices from the American people. And I wonder, do you feel that any will be needed? Are you planning to call for any? And do you think that American life will really go back to the way it was on September 10th?

George W. Bush: Well, you know, I think the American people are sacrificing now. I think they're waiting in airport lines longer than they've ever had before. I think that -- I think there's a certain sacrifice when you lose a piece of your soul. And Americans -- I was standing up there at the Pentagon today, and I saw the tears of the families whose lives were lost in the Pentagon. And I said in my talk there that America prays with you. I think there's a sacrifice, there's a certain sense of giving themselves to share their grief with people they'll never, maybe, ever see in their lives.

So America is sacrificing. America -- I think the interesting thing that has happened, and this is so sad an incident, but there are some positive things developed -- that are developing. One is, I believe that many people are reassessing what's important in life. Moms and dads are not only reassessing their marriage and the importance of their marriage, but of the necessity of loving their children like never before. I think that's one of the positives that have come from the evildoers.

The evil ones have sparked an interesting change in America, I think -- a compassion in our country that is overflowing. I know their intended act was to destroy us and make us cowards and make us not want to respond. But quite the opposite has happened -- our nation is united, we are strong, we're compassionate; neighbors care about neighbors.

The story I talked about earlier was one that really touched my heart, about women of cover fearing to leave their homes. And there was such an outpouring of compassion for people within our own country, a recognition that the Islamic faith should stand side by side, hand to hand with the Jewish faith and the Christian faith in our great land. It is such a wonderful example.

You know, I'm asked all the time -- I'll ask myself a question. How do I respond to -- it's an old trick -- how do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America? I'll tell you how I respond: I'm amazed. I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about, that people would hate us. I am, I am -- like most Americans, I just can't believe it. Because I know how good we are, and we've go to do a better job of making our case. We've got to do a better job of explaining to the people in the Middle East, for example, that we don't fight a war against Islam or Muslims. We don't hold any religion accountable. We're fighting evil. And these murderers have hijacked a great religion in order to justify their evil deeds. And we cannot let it stand.

This is the basis of the modern conservative ethos: good guys vs bad guys. White hats vs black hats. The righteous vs "the evil ones". The question is, which side of the line do they think you and I fall on?

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