Chanting Points Memo: When Authoritarians Make Pledges About Your Liberties

Brian Rosenberg is the president of Macalester College in Saint Paul.  Macalester is, to put it mildly, a training ground for the regional “progressive” “elite”; the Twin Cities’ non-profits, MPR, and government – especially the DFL – are clogged with Mac grads of all ages.

Which is just fine.  They have that right.

But Rosenberg, with all due respect, would seem to be proof of Dennis Prager’s dictum, which I’ll paraphrase; it takes a university education to be this ignorant.

In the wake of Sandy Hook, Rosenberg has “taken a pledge”.  Like most pledges made in public (or at least on MinnPost), it’s smug, self-righteous and…

…and betrays what on the surface might seem like a brick-thick ignorance about how a representative republic works – but, when looking at Macalester’s record, might be better viewed as contempt for it.


Shame, for me, because I have through my indifference allowed the legalized possession of assault weapons capable of inflicting massive destruction to become “normal.” Shame because I have taken as an unchangeable fact of life the enormous influence on our political processes of the National Rifle Association. Shame because I recognize that inaction is a form of action and silence is a form of tacit acceptance.

So let’s mark this for later:  the NRA is the Boogeyman.  We’ll come back to that.

What you do — what I now do — is resolve to act according to a single, simple principle: I will give no money to any candidate for local, state, or national political office who does not openly and actively support a ban on the legal possession of military-style assault weapons.

So in other words, you’ll get together with other, like-minded people to try to enact your will on the broader public.

Again, we’ll come back to that.

This should not be a Democratic or a Republican issue. One can be for or against smaller government, for or against higher tax rates for the wealthy, for or against single-payer health care, for or against the legalization of same-sex marriage. One can believe or not in the reality of human-generated climate change.

None of this should prevent our coming together to declare that there is no conceivable reason for the mother of Adam Lanza to be in legal possession of the .223 caliber, semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle that was used in the Newtown, Conn., massacre…

Well, no.  Leaving aside that there are many practical, pragmatic, non-partisan reasons to own large-capacity magazines, the differences in world-view do indeed precisely say a lot about finding the justification for civilians owning ugly guns built to military specs.  People who favor smaller government, lower taxes and a less-interventionist government (which would lead to appropriate beliefs on single-payer healthcare, among other issues) likely do believe in the originalist view of the Second Amendment – that the government and its standing armies and police forces should not have a monopoly on force.

I understand that banning such weapons is not the sole answer to the profound questions raised by the Sandy Hook killings.

Indeed, it’s no answer at all.

The data is out there.  All long arms – hunting rifles, fowling shotguns, .22 varmint guns, sawed-off scatterguns, and “assault rifles” – are involved in a little under 400 homicides a year.  “Assault rifles” are, in a normal year, a small part of that number.  Legally-purchased ones, fewer still – and even that rate’s been dropping for two decades  That’s as compared to 500 people murdered by clubs, hammers and 2x4s, 400 or so by bare hands and fists, and 1,700 by knives just like the ones found in the Macalester kitchen.

So no.  Banning “assault rifles” will not “solve” the problem.

But we also need to begin somewhere, and I will allow no preposterous arguments about slippery slopes or government plots to steal our liberties to prevent my beginning here.

Always beware of arguments that start “we have to begin somewhere”.  They are usually followed with “so I’ll pick the knee-jerk reaction that fits my agenda, regardless of its affect on whatever the problem is”.

But here’s the important part:  when Rosenberg says he’ll “allow no preposterous arguments about slippery slopes or government plots to steal liberty” – he literally means it.

Macalester College has a “red” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights In Education.  Its’ speech code includes a prohibition on “inappropriate words”, as Orwellian a dodge as FIRE has found:

A reasonable person cannot possibly know what Macalester means by “speech that makes use of inappropriate words,” since what is “inappropriate” varies widely from person to person. Faced with the threat of punishment under such a policy, students will refrain from saying anything that might even be considered inappropriate, since they do not know what is actually prohibited.

OK, it’s a tu quoque ad hominem, sort of.  The fact that students at Mr. Rosenberg’s college are marginally less repressed than they’d be in Havana doesn’t logically tie in to his argument about the Second Amendment.  It merely tells you how he approaches the idea of liberty, including the hard-core liberty involved in the freedom to defend ones’ self, ones’ family, community, and democracy with lethal force that is what the Second Amendment protects.

Someone who doesn’t trust people with the responsibility involved in the First Amendment is going to have trouble with the grown-up duties in the Second.

I will listen quietly to no more arguments about “people killing people” rather than “guns killing people,” because the reality is that certain kinds of guns allow people to kill people much more easily and rapidly and that in societies in which such guns are banned — meaning pretty much everywhere but the United States — fewer people, fewer children, are murdered.

It’s a nice thought.  It’s also untrue.  Several disarmed societies have killed people, especially children, by the millions.  Ukraine in 1933.  The USSR from the twenties through the fifties.  China from time immemorial to pretty bloody recently.  Germany within the lifetime of not a few people reading this article.

“But those aren’t related to the current situation in America!”, you may say.

True. And you can thank the Second Amendment, in part, for that.

So let’s move on to Mr. Rosenberg’s “solution”:

Of course withholding money seems in many respects like a hopelessly inadequate response to the murder of children and teachers. But the sad reality is that many of our elected officials are motivated chiefly by the desire for re-election and that, rightly or wrongly, money is perceived as essential to fulfilling that desire. To withhold money is to speak in a language they will understand.

So from this day forward my first question to anyone calling or emailing or knocking on my door to solicit support will be the same: Does your candidate openly and actively support a ban on the legal possession of military-style assault weapons? “He has no view” will not be a good enough answer, nor will “she believes that we need to have a serious national discussion about this issue.” I will be looking for a simple yes or no.

Well, bully for President Rosenberg!  His solution is to engage in the democratic process.  And in his cossetted upper-middle-class enclave of Volvo-driving, NPR-listening, free-range-alpaca-wearing, Saint Olaf-alum, post-graduate-degree-waving fellow patricians, you may have a lot of company.

Now – what, precisely, does President Rosenberg think the gun movement – including its leader, stalking horse and boogeyman, the NRA – does?

The gun movement is arguably America’s most successful (in the long-term) grass-roots advocacy group. In forty years of non-stop effort, with no media help (indeed, much opposition) and against the wishes of our nation’s academic and cultural idiot “elites”, we’ve reversed the tide of gun control, and turned it from a winner to at third rail.  The main source of the movement’s money is membership dues from over four million Americans of all walks of life, from rural blue-collar workers to – I probably shouldn’t tell Mr. Rosenberg this – most likely, at least one person on his faculty.

The NRA has power because it mobilizes people.  In this case, people who are much better informed about crime, history, and the Constitution than Brian Rosenberg is – and who do exactly as Mr. Rosenberg says he’ll do:

And if the answer is not yes? Well, here will be my answer to those who come looking for a check:

From my cold, dead hands.

Just like I, and millions like me, do with our own checks.

And we’re fighting for freedom – real freedom, not the kind that Brian Rosenberg doles out to Macalester’s students in carefully-supervised dollops – and we’ve been fighting this battle for a generation.

We’re getting good at it.

Oh, yeah; I pledge that not only will none of my progeny ever go to Macalester if I have anything to say about it, but I’ll do my damnedest to make sure to talk my friends’ kids out of it as well.

15 thoughts on “Chanting Points Memo: When Authoritarians Make Pledges About Your Liberties

  1. First-given Macalester’s free speech policy, it seems ripe for an enterprising young conservative to attend the school and take offense to every liberal idea spoken aloud. Chaos ensues.

    Second-had Adam Lanza’s mother used the same rifle to defend herself against her son, she’d be a hero of the left.

  2. You would think a guy with a PhD in English would avoid passive voice (I understand that banning such weapons is not the sole answer to the profound questions raised by the Sandy Hook killings).
    And would void absolutes (“None of this should prevent our coming together to declare that there is no conceivable reason for the mother of Adam Lanza to be in legal possession of the .223 caliber, semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle that was used in the Newtown, Conn., massacre — a military weapon designed for quick reloading and to inflict enormous and rapid devastation”), or would, at least, use adjectives properly (“I will allow no preposterous arguments about slippery slopes or government plots to steal our liberties to prevent my beginning here. “).
    No event has ever ‘raised a question’, least of all a profound question.
    Suppose Lanza’s mother was a shooter-hoobyist? Or a gun collector? Or a gun investor?
    My arguments about ‘slippery slopes’ may not be preposterous, and you can’t decide whether they are or are not preposterous until you hear them.

  3. Mac, and academe generally, could use a little less Brian Rosenberg and a lot more Joel Rosenberg (RIP).

  4. I remind the President of Macalester college:

    While the mother of Adam Lanza had legal possession of the rifle, Adam Lanza did not have legal possession of the rifle. Adam Lanza murdered the owner of the rifle and stole it. Despite both such actions being illegal.

    And .223 caliber is not really a devastating round. In some states, it is not legal for deer.

  5. In 2009 9,406 people died as a result AIDS. I have been unable to quickly get a clear number for firearms-related deaths for the same period. Close as I can come is about 30,000. All I could easily find were “per 100,000 population” figures. That might say something about fact providers (or my research skills).

    Still, 9,406 deaths is also tragic. The AIDS epidemic also counts children, teachers, etc. among its victims. Some were not active participants in the voluntary behaviors which can spread the disease.

    Would the good doctor support methods similar to his solutions to the gun epidemic as a means to combat the AIDS epidemic? Specifically, registering carriers, requiring limitations on the behaviors that result in AIDS deaths, maybe mandatory government-issued proof of infection/ non-infection to those who choose engage in the risky sexual practices which would spread the disease?

    Remember, no slippery slopes or negative historical comparisons allowed …

    AIDS is a terrible disease and my post is not intended to make light of or disparage those afflicted with it.

  6. Lefty twerps of Rosenberg’s caliber evidently feel safe making asinine commentary on MinnDuh now that they have a secure conservative commentary firewall in place.

    Let him face the wrath of the people!

  7. Why does Rosenberg feel that his personal shame is a proper foundation for making public policy?
    Not that I believe for a second that Rosenberg actually feels ‘shame’, or any other emotion over the Sandy Hook shooting spree.

  8. FF; they baffle me, too. In fact, the fact that so many of them are liberal Democrats, baffles me just as much.

    Mitch, shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy, you had a great post about the number of kids that were killed by guns in Chicago. That piece should be required reading for dip sticks like Rosenberg. And, like you, I will be attempting to talk kids out of going to Macalester or Hamline after Nazi Dave Schultz railroaded Tom Emmer’s gig there. I’m happy to say that I have been successful twice on that one.

  9. There are supposed to be four types of essays — expository, narrative, descriptive, and personal. I think we need to add a fifth type to encompass what Rosenberg has written. Let’s call it ‘the preener’. It resembles the personal essay, because it requires the use of the first person as narrator, but the theme of the ‘preener’ isn’t derived from a personal experience or a personal observation. Instead the ‘preener’ tries to define a universal truth based on the author’s personal sense of outrage. The goal is to celebrate the writer’s self-satisfaction with his or her view of a given topic, and to denigrate the morals or intelligence of those who hold a different view. The ‘preener’ also demonstrates to the writer’s peers that he or she is member of a group that is expected to think about a topic in a certain way, so it can act as a ‘class signifier’. This, in fact, may be its true purpose.
    See any of Maureen Dowd’s political columns for further examples.

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