September 19, 2018

So, What The Hell Do We Do Now?

Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

In the aftermath of another horrible and heartbreaking mass shooting at an American school, the same political game took place that always takes place. That game breaks down into three stages: before the facts come in, once the facts are in, and the actual political debate.

Before The Facts Come In. Before the facts come in, proponents of gun control point at foreign countries and the lack of mass shootings in those countries and suggest that Congress ought to do something — anything, really — to make it more difficult for evil people to obtain guns. They do not specify what that something is. But it must be a law, and it must restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to guns. Furthermore, any Congressperson who opposes such unspecified laws is the tool of the “gun industry.”

Meanwhile, those who oppose gun control urge caution until we know the facts; often they offer thoughts and prayers. Proponents of gun control then mock those thoughts and prayers in order to imply that gun control opponents don’t care about dead children, and merely want to avoid responsibility by throwing the problem at God.

The Facts Come In. As the facts come in, proponents of gun control maintain their staunch advocacy for their position, but are often forced to acknowledge that their preferred measures wouldn’t have done anything to stop the shootings at issue. That doesn’t stop them from clubbing about the ears gun control opponents, who maintain that gun control measures must be tailored toward stopping actual events.

Meanwhile, opponents of gun control usually suggest two measures: mental health screening that would take dangerous people off the streets and into treatment, and security in schools. These are rejected out of hand by gun control proponents, who say they don’t want those who are mentally ill avoiding treatment in order to avoid the consequences of such treatment, and add that placing security in schools would somehow “militarize” the school environment.

The Political Debate. Congress usually proposes some measure of gun control. That measure of gun control is usually far more unpopular in specifics than it was in theory; it usually restricts rights most Americans care about, and fails to properly target the underlying problem at issue. Such measures almost universally fail. When they do pass, they show little evidence of impact on mass shootings.

So, where does all of this leave us?

Here’s what we know. The shooter used an AR-15, the most common rifle in the United States. The shooter was on the radar of school authorities, and he was reportedly in frequent contact with the police; he was reported to the FBI as well, but follow-up was apparently insufficient. People warned authorities about him, and they didn’t do anything or couldn’t do anything. That’s probably the best place to start looking for answers.

The shooter’s gun was obtained legally. He had never been arrested; it’s difficult to think of a way to prevent the sale of a gun to a person with a clean record without a mass gun ban or confiscation. He also had a gas mask and grenades — and it’s unclear where he obtained the grenades. We could look at stronger prosecution of straw buyers, as Jim Geraghty of National Review suggests, but that wouldn’t have helped in this case.

So, where do we go from here? Obviously, I think that we ought to consider security in schools as a first step — I went to a Jewish high school in Los Angeles that received bomb threats at least twice a year; the building next door was scoped out by mass shooter Buford Furrow, but he left thanks to security there. It’s not too much to ask that we place armed security at our schools, as Israel does.

But this much is clear: snap Twitter excoriations focused on casting aspersions at the character of our political opposition tears our country apart right when we need to come together in comfort. We have an unfortunate tendency to roll our eyes when people say they’re waiting for the facts, whether we’re discussing mass shootings or terrorist attacks; I’ve done it, too. But waiting for facts is the responsible thing to do. And as the facts come in, perhaps better solutions will make themselves clearer.

This column was originally posted at The Daily Wire.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Did we just watch the last California gubernatorial debate—ever?

Did we just watch the last California gubernatorial debate—ever?      

Trick question. It appears very few of us bothered to watch last week’s debate between Gov. Jerry Brown and challenger Neel Kashkari. If this proves to be the last such debate—a real possibility since there was almost no debate this year— most Californians wouldn’t notice the event’s demise.

We shouldn’t be proud of this state of affairs. Yes, it is perfectly fine for Californians not to follow state politics closely; the world is full of more important things, and there hasn’t been a close governor’s race in 24 years. But a gubernatorial debate ought to offer a moment that is an exception to our inattention. A well-designed public conversation between the candidates could offer our sprawling and splintered state a chance to think about itself as a whole. We’re missing a rare opportunity for California citizens to consider what is most important in our shared civic life, and in preparing for our future.

Most political debates as structured, not to mention the realities of our lives, don’t allow for such a moment. I write about California for a living, and even I had little interest in this debate. I entered Thursday evening, a busy night in the week for our family and many others, with no firm plan as to how I would watch. My wife was out of town for work, and I had to juggle three children—retrieve one from the doctor, go home to pick up the baby, then meet my parents, who had the third kid, for dinner.

In the car on the way over to my parents’, my two boys in the backseat, I turned the radio to the NFL season opener, but it was halftime. So I searched the dial for the debate, landing on public radio just as Brown and Kashkari made their opening statements.

I immediately wondered if I should switch back to football. The early conversation focused not on California but on the polls and who might win—a pointless conversation given the lack of suspense around the election’s outcome. When Gov. Brown said that Kashkari didn’t stand a chance, the challenger didn’t bother to dispute the premise.

It was striking how the two men struggled to talk fast enough to fit the short time periods—90 seconds for responses, 30 seconds for rebuttals.  How could anyone learn much of anything from this?  Twelve minutes later, we reached my parents’ house. Curious to know if the debate looked any better than it sounded, I turned on their TV and clicked through the network affiliates. Only KVEA, the Telemundo station, was airing it.

In whatever language, it was hard not to notice the contrast in ages: an elderly white man, 76, and an Indian-American (who calls himself a “brown kid”) with a shaved head who just a few years ago was on People’s list of the “sexiest men alive.” Kashkari is 35 years Gov. Brown’s junior, and, in a first for a major party nominee for governor, younger than me (by four months). They represent two types familiar to Californians. There’s the old guy who is wise but a bit too schooled in the limits and disappointments of the world, and thus a couple measures too patient. And then there’s the young guy who says he has a killer app to transform the world, which sounds great, except you can’t understand how the app is supposed to work.  

Brown is the state’s brilliant if daffy great-uncle, a guy you don’t really know but your grandparents and parents had strong opinions about. His longevity is a gift to California, because it connects us across generations. My parents, who are both journalists, love to reminisce about covering the 1966 gubernatorial race, between Ronald Reagan and Brown’s father Pat, for the college newspaper where they met. My mom, who is seldom wrong, likes to mention that my dad predicted back then that Brown would win, because Californians would never elect a movie star as governor. My parents got married the next year.

After a few minutes, I grew frustrated with the Spanish translation; Kashkari was dubbed by a loud, grating voice. So I pulled out my computer to look for an Internet feed in English.  I found it on the California Channel, which typically broadcasts the state legislature. Finally able to both hear the debate in my own language and watch it, I grew more frustrated.

At one point, after Brown attempted an answer to the complicated question of what to do about water and the California Delta, one of the questioners turned to the challenger and said: “Mr. Kashkari, 30 seconds on water.” Thirty seconds on water? It would take 30 minutes to explain the Delta, much less the array of serious water issues confronting the state.

The format cheated us, because the combatants have things to say that we should hear. Brown understands California as well as anyone alive and could explain its complicated challenges—with some time. Kashkari has a fairly detailed platform that he deserves time to explain.

Instead, they had just enough time for banal sound bites—Brown kept saying California has “momentum” (fact check: so does almost anything going downhill). Kashkari kept talking about “civil rights” and “jobs” without explaining how he would guarantee either. And then each impugned the other’s motives, dialing up the sort of phony outrage upon which modern American politics is based. Brown kept saying Kashkari is a Wall Street banker (he’s actually a guy who has had trouble sticking to one career), and Kashkari kept mentioning Brown’s powerful family and powerful union backers.

After the debate, pundits, citing these personal exchanges, claimed that they showed differences between the candidates. In fact, the opposite is true. Such attacks result from the absence of significant differences between them, or among the media and government elites of California. The debate was striking for its substantive agreements—on the need for more school spending, more infrastructure, and more action against climate change, as well as for same-sex marriage and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Disagreement was limited to prosaic issues: the cost of high-speed rail, the methods of processing Central American refugees, and a ban on plastic grocery bags.

The debate was billed as hour-long, but it was really a psychiatrist’s hour, 50 minutes. That’s about 78 seconds of conversation for every million Californians, less than a minute for each of the state’s 58 counties.

Why do we persist in holding debates like this? It’s especially maddening when you consider that our state is full of technologists revolutionizing how we communicate. Why not take the debates away from the media companies, who aren’t drawing audiences for them, and turn them over to universities or nonprofits with expertise in technology, communication, and civic engagement? Even a minor updating—let each candidate offer a PowerPoint of her plans, while the other is permitted to interrupt intermittently with questions and comments—would be a huge improvement.

But powerful media and political people are accustomed to the current format, and so it may live on, zombie-like, for a few more elections. But next time, like nearly all my fellow Californians, I won’t be watching. A debate like last week’s, no matter how it’s broadcast, isn’t worth our time.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square.

Humor

As I see it, the big problem with the political debates isn’t, as everybody contends, the candidates; rather, it’s the format. It’s too polite, too genteel. You wind up with two men, who have spent months accusing each other of being treacherous fools, suddenly having to put on their company manners. They wind up acting as if they just might vote for the other guy. The whole thing is as phony as a bad amateur production; mediocre lines delivered by over-rehearsed robots who have been dressed by a wardrobe lady with way too many red neckties at her disposal.

At the end, you don’t know either man any better than you did at the start. Personally, I would like to see a return to old-fashioned, bare-knuckle, last-man-standing showdowns. And I’m not referring to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 either. The only things that came out of that televised affair: it let everyone know that the Catholic candidate didn’t have horns and cloven hooves, and reminded us that Nixon had come to look exactly like the sewer rat that political cartoonist Herblock had been sketching for the previous dozen years.
No, when I wish for a return to the good old days, I’m talking about the old days at the house in which I grew up. When my relatives congregated, you had the full spectrum of political opinion, and not just Democrats and Republicans. Predictably, the elderly cousins who worked for minimum wage in the shmatte business could be counted on to vote the straight Socialist ticket.

We even had a delusional Communist in our midst. Uncle Sidney was truly a screwball. He had made his fortune during World War II, wheeling and dealing in Chicago’s black market. He then moved to L.A., where he invested his ill-gotten booty in parking lots and slum housing. I used to delight in pointing out to him that, card-carrying or not, with his record for greed and financial chicanery, come the revolution, he’d be among the first lined up against a wall and shot.

Political discussions in our house were as much like these televised cotillions as mud wrestling is like a tea party. A polite exchange would consist of “Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” followed by “You’re full of it! You shut up!” I hate to think what would happen to a couple of preppie fellows like Bush and Gore if tossed into one of these family skirmishes. For all their alleged differences, these are two privileged peas from the very same pod; they’re both rich sons of powerful fathers, graduates of the Ivy League. As babies, these two scions could have sucked on the same silver spoon. Hell, if they were any more similar, they’d have to be Siamese twins.

In my house, without a Jim Lehrer to keep the bullies at bay, you wouldn’t have had a chance to hear Gore courageously confess that he’s for Social Security or Bush take the bit in his teeth and announce to all the world that he thinks education is a really, really good thing. My relatives wouldn’t have let these two hothouse orchids get a cliché in edgewise. They’d have had these two puppet boys for lunch. During election years, especially if you couldn’t take the heat, you definitely stayed out of my mother’s kitchen.
When it comes to helping one make a decision about which candidate to support, I find the TV debates absolutely useless. Understand, I’m not saying that I would have voted for any of my relatives, but at least after an hour or two you knew that among the uncles, Irving was the loudest, Nathan was the rudest and Jake was the least informed.

You also knew one other thing: namely that should the Russkies, by some awful miracle, go on to win the Cold War, Uncle Sidney would have been in for a hell of a big surprise.