World still here, but loonies among us halt­ing progress

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - From the left Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day Collins writes for The New York Times. Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day


the Mayans were sort of right. The world didn’t im­plode when their cal­en­dar stopped on Dec. 21. But the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion did call for putting guns in ev­ery Amer­i­can school in a press con­fer­ence that had a sort of civ­i­liza­tion-hits-a-dead­end feel to it.

And we learned that ne­go­ti­a­tions on avert­ing a ma­jor eco­nomic cri­sis had come to a screech­ing halt be­cause Speaker John Boehner lost the sup­port of the far-right con­tin­gent of his al­ready-pretty-damned-con­ser­va­tive cau­cus. We have seen the fu­ture, and ev­ery­thing in­volves ne­go­ti­at­ing with loony peo­ple.

Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, has ma­jor sway in Congress when it comes to gun is­sues. So the press con­fer­ence, in which he read a ram­bling, un­yield­ing state­ment in a qua­ver­ing voice, while re­fus­ing to take any ques­tions, could not have in­spired con­fi­dence that the na­tional trauma over the shoot­ing at a Con­necti­cut ele­men­tary school was go­ing to be re­solved any­time soon.

LaPierre im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fied the prob­lem that led to a de­ranged young man mow­ing down chil­dren with a semi-au­to­matic ri­fle: Gun-free school zones. (“They tell ev­ery in­sane killer in Amer­ica that schools are the safest place to in­flict max­i­mum may­hem.”) Then he de­manded a po­lice of­fi­cer in ev­ery Amer­i­can school.

The idea that hav­ing lots of guns around is the best pro­tec­tion against gun vi­o­lence is a fairy tale that the NRA tells it­self when it goes to sleep at night. But an armed se­cu­rity of­fi­cer at Columbine High School was no help. And his­tory also shows that armed civil­ians gen­er­ally freeze up dur­ing mass shoot­ings. So what we con­tinue to have is an ex­cel­lent ar­gu­ment for ban­ning weapons that spray lots of bul­lets.

How­ever un­hinged LaPierre might have seemed to the ca­sual observer, he sent a clear mes­sage to mem­bers of Congress who fear the wrath of the NRA: No com­pro­mise on ban­ning as­sault weapons or any gun con­trol is­sue. That made it hard to imag­ine any re­form get­ting past the great, gap­ing maw that is the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

We wit­nessed the magic of the House Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity when the tea party forces blocked Boehner’s plan to con­tinue the Bush tax cuts for in­comes un­der $1 mil­lion a year. This was around the time the speaker re­cited the prayer, much beloved by 12-step pro­grams, about seek­ing the seren­ity to

Scot Le­high

Paul Krug­man

Dana Milbank

Mau­reen Dowd ac­cept things you can­not change.

Boehner’s bill was mainly a po­lit­i­cal ploy, so in a way, its de­feat was mean­ing­less. Ex­cept that it would be com­fort­ing not to be­lieve that one of the crit­i­cal play­ers in Washington was al­ways at the mercy of the loopy­ex­trem­ist wing in his cau­cus.

Like, um, Rep. Tim Huel­skamp of Kansas. On Dec. 21, Huel­skamp rep­re­sented the House re­sis­tance forces on MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe,” in an ap­pear­ance with great Mayan over­tones. First, he grad­u­ally ac­knowl­edged that he was never go­ing to vote for any­thing that raised taxes on any­body, even if it was un­der­stood by the en­tire world to be a ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic to win mas­sive spend­ing cuts and avert mas­sive tax in­creases on 99.8 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Then the dis­cus­sion turned to the Con­necti­cut shoot­ings, and Huel­skamp quickly an­nounced that the na­tion did not have a gun prob­lem. “It’s a peo­ple prob­lem. It’s a cul­ture prob­lem,” he in­sisted. Any­body who dis­agreed — like Pres­i­dent Barack Obama — was, he said, us­ing a tragedy “to push a po­lit­i­cal agenda.”

In con­clu­sion, the con­gress­man an­nounced that he had an 11-year-old son, “and I have a choice whether he’s al­lowed to play those video games. What I would sug­gest to moms and dads across this coun­try is look at what your chil­dren are do­ing. ... And I’m not say­ing to pass a sin­gle law about that, be­cause I think that would be politi­ciz­ing the is­sue.” Which we really hate. Politi­ciz­ing. There are so many ways we’d rather be cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­days. We would like to be gath­er­ing around the tree with loved ones, dis­cussing cur­rent events in the form of that story about the theft of 6 mil­lion pounds of syrup from the strate­gic maple syrup re­serve in Que­bec.

Obama bid a Merry Christ­mas to the na­tion af­ter an­nounc­ing he would try to re-avert the feared “fis­cal cliff” with a bill that re­solves vir­tu­ally noth­ing but avoids tax hike for the mid­dle class. “At the very least, let’s agree right now on what we al­ready agree on,” he said. This is what now passes for a wildly op­ti­mistic state­ment.

Mean­while, a con­gress­man from Wis­con­sin, an­gry about the fail­ure to pass a farm bill, warned that the na­tion was about to fall over “the Dairy Cliff.”

At least there’s still eggnog. God bless us ev­ery one.

Gail Collins

John Young

Leonard Pitts

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