There has never been a better time to be a media critic of the gun lobby, gun culture, and the National Rifle Association. The massacre in Las Vegas, at a country music festival, has got the gun lobby on its back foot for once, and we all hope that the rightwing’s instant concession on “bump stocks” (which convert a semi-automatic rifle to an automatic) will lead to more concessions, and end the stranglehold of the gun lobby over legislatures.
Every time I turn on National Public Radio these days there is an inquisition into the gun lobby. On Fresh Air, Terry Gross asks over and over how the lobby derives its power and what is the NRA’s latest agenda? Variations of the term gun lobby echoed 18 times.
So I’ve interviewed a lot of people about the NRA, and I still don’t really understand why do they have the power that they have? I mean, I know they represent the gun industry. Is the gun industry, like, that big and that powerful? I know they represent gun owners, but a lot of gun owners are also really concerned about gun safety…. What’s – what’s your understanding of, like, why do they have so much power?
On the weekly political dialogue on NPR yesterday, E.J. Dionne and David Brooks disagreed over whether the nefarious gun lobby is a political machine that can be taken on and defeated, or the expression of an oppositional cultural force ingrained in American life. Brooks took the latter position (which I find persuasive):
[W]e have a big culture war over a lot of things, but a lot of it is about the post-industrial economy and those who are benefiting from it and those who are against. And those who are against it and who feel their values are under assault have taken on guns and immigration and a few other issues as their proxies to mobilize their defense. And they’ve said guns stand for freedom…
I think I – the reason the NRA is powerful is not ’cause they give money compared to the money the Koch brothers gives. It’s relatively small. They’re powerful because 1 in 4 households have a gun. They’re powerful because there are more gun shops and gun clubs in this country than there are McDonald’s. They’ve just got a mass movement, and they build relationships.
Brooks wrote a column to this effect in the New York Times.
And alongside him, Bret Stephens adopted a radical position: Repeal the Second Amendment.
Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.
David Brooks seconded that idea on NPR.
[T]o me, if you’re not talking about that big issue, you’re really not talking about the core of this thing.
I happen to agree with all these folks. I marvel at the power of the NRA and wonder how it operates. I regard gun culture as deeply held and symbolic of cultural opposition to blue state values. And I think the Second Amendment is an anachronism. Times change, and so traditional codes should be abandoned.
What is so remarkable to me is that all this active, productive journalism and discussion never takes place when the subject is the Israel lobby and the U.S. special relationship to Israel. Terry Gross, David Brooks, and Bret Stephens are all Zionists; they believe openly/ardently in Brooks’s and Stephens’s case in the need for a militarized Jewish state that the U.S. must support militarily. Brooks’s son served in the Israeli army, and he is confessedly “gooey-eyed” over Israel. Stephens is a lost cause for Zionism. Gross is sotto voce, but she never puts on critics of the Israel lobby– “I’ve interviewed a lot of people about the NRA” — and she drubbed Jimmy Carter over his use of the word “apartheid” to describe Palestine 11 years ago.
Another person who drubbed Carter was CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who worked for AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group, and produced propaganda saying there was no Deir Yassin massacre during the Nakba, and an autobiography celebrating the power of the organized Jewish community in its support for Israel. I am sure that Blitzer is these days conducting critiques of the gun lobby.
And everything that David Brooks says about the persistence of gun culture and its oppositional values can be said in its own terms about the Israel lobby, especially the neoconservative branch. That it represents a historic answer to the question of Jewish powerlessness and expulsion in Europe: weaponized Jewish nationalism in the Middle East. That it has sociological roots in the U.S., in the emergence of Jews from anti-Semitic discrimination to taking up many positions in the establishment. That it advocates a clash-of-civilizations world view that is utterly at odds with other intellectual values: liberal universalist thinking and realist-laissez-faire/containment. That violent regime change in the Middle East, effected by the U.S., is something that David Brooks and Bret Stephens have embraced, as neoconservatives who believe whatever-it-takes to preserve Jewish nationalism– in a place they don’t want to live themselves.
Everything that Stephens says about the Second Amendment– that it has outlived its moment, that it was intended for certain conditions and those conditions no longer exist, and that its preservation is a grotesque and violent offense to order in the 21st century– can be said about Zionism, the belief in Jewish political supremacy/majority on lands that were historically Palestinian.
Tony Judt said that Zionism was an anachronism 14 years ago, in the New York Review of Books, and he was promptly shouted down and his argument shelved, by the august/official Bob Silvers, though Judt believed it to his death, and many other Jews and non-Jews believe it now. Though they never get a hearing anything like the hearing the critics of the gun lobby are getting. Here is Judt:
In a world where nations and peoples increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will; where cultural and national impediments to communication have all but collapsed; where more and more of us have multiple elective identities and would feel falsely constrained if we had to answer to just one of them; in such a world Israel is truly an anachronism.
That argument is so fresh and beautiful because we never hear it in the mainstream. But every bit of it was true then and is still true for western liberals– we seek democracy, freedom from Jim Crow caste systems, and legal orders that treat everyone as equal.
This is all we have ever asked for re the Israel lobby: debate it openly. Let Bret Stephens defend his anachronism of privilege in a country he doesn’t want to live in against liberals who believe in one person, one vote. Let me explain why the Jewish rise into the establishment granted donors so much power inside the Democratic Party that Hillary Clinton was busy attacking BDS when she should have been in Wisconsin and the lead Democratic thinktank was hosting Netanyahu to trash Obama and the Iran deal.
That’s what good journalism is about, a wideranging discussion of important issues. The fact that the media cannot bring itself to broach such questions about the Israel lobby is a reflection of the fact that it is compromised by that lobby.
P.S. It is great news that the Forward, which is itself a component of the Israel lobby inasmuch as it advocates for the special relationship, is conducting a debate about the power of the lobby, between Steve Walt and Dennis Ross (part 3 at the link). Liberal Zionists understand that the rightwing lobby is destroying their dream castle. So they’re showing some intellectual honesty.