Sometimes – but not all that often – Hollywood really is like the movies. Here, one block down from Hollywood Boulevard and one block up from Sunset Boulevard, just off Laurel Canyon, it’s an oddly hushed rainy December evening – except that’s not really rain out there tonight, just something less than rain and more than mist, like in one of those old black-and-white film-noir things. Maybe Humphrey Bogart will drive by in his dark and oddly upright ’45 Chevy two-door sedan, in his fedora, with Lauren Bacall at his side, just like in The Big Sleep (1946) – from the 1939 Raymond Chandler novel, set right here in a wet and morally ambiguous Hollywood. That was a fine film. The streets gleamed in the dark. There was the low-key lighting and unbalanced compositions, and lots of deep shadows falling on everything – shadows from the Venetian blinds or the banister or whatever. It was all symbolic, and at the center of it all was the wise-cracking burnt-out private detective with his own moral code. He was not a good man. He had never been a good man – but he did the right thing, eventually, even if he got beat up and fooled a lot, simply because it was the right thing, as he saw it. He didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought. Hell, it didn’t matter what they thought. The world is inherently corrupt, you see, and the city streets are always wet, and no one can be trusted. The world is full of deep shadows and odd angles, and full of devious people telling you what the right thing is, but only to get what they want. The trick was not getting used. Figure out the right thing to do, on your own, and do it.
Humphrey Bogart made a career of this. Phillip Marlowe in Hollywood and Rick Blaine in Casablanca and Sam Spade in San Francisco and Charlie Allnut on that river in Africa were all the same wise-cracking burnt-out shell of a man who cynically looked at everyone and their nasty or self-righteous agendas, saw who was trying to use him and use others, and then, against all odds, did the right thing. This scruffy and dissolute character Bogart played wasn’t a noble hero by any means – he was always deeply flawed. He just cut through the crap and figured out a way, his own way, to do the right thing. In the late forties and early fifties that was considered cool.
Those days are gone. Now the world is filled with sanctimonious liberals talking about justice for the oppressed, even if those who have simply done well lose out a bit, and with self-righteous conservatives talking about the people that Jesus wants you to hate or the magic Invisible Hand of unregulated free-market capitalism, and now films are in sunny vibrant color. There are no shadows. No one now says that the world is morally ambiguous – there’s good and evil in the world and you’d damned well better get them straight. That’s what people want to see. They want real heroes, not flawed losers working their way through the shadows.
Then there’s the cold rain. Sunday night it fell in Hollywood, and it also fell in New England, as they were holding services for the twenty children shot multiple times at point blank range and for the six adults killed there too, the Friday morning before. That act was pure evil, of course – there was nothing else it could be – but the issue of what to do to keep this from ever happening again wasn’t as clear. Gun control advocates were saying it was time to disarm America as much as possible, this was the last straw, but of course others said that was dead wrong – everyone should be better armed to stop these psychopaths in their tracks before they got started, as they arrived on the scene, by shooting them dead.
Which is it? A country as heavily armed as America is insane – and maybe evil – and taking away people’s guns, so they can’t defend themselves, is insane –and maybe evil too, and probably unconstitutional, and politically impossible as anyone who tried that would be hounded out of office. Both sides know they’re right of course, and the whole thing is a political nightmare too – choose one side or the other and the other side will punish you severely.
Humphrey Bogart would say screw that, and then just do the right thing. It’s a matter of working through the shadows, and on this one rainy December night President Obama actually gave it a go:
He spoke for a nation in sorrow, but the slaughter of all those little boys and girls turned the commander in chief into another parent in grief, searching for answers. Alone on a spare stage after the worst day of his tenure, President Barack Obama declared Sunday he will use “whatever power” he has to prevent shootings like the Connecticut school massacre.
“What choice do we have?” Obama said at an evening vigil in the shattered community of Newtown, Conn. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
It was an odd speech, as Obama did seem to be searching for answers, or committing political suicide:
For Obama, that was an unmistakable sign that he would at least attempt to take on the explosive issue of gun control. He made clear that the deaths compelled the nation to act, and that he was the leader of a nation that was failing to keep its children safe. He spoke of a broader effort, never outlining exactly what he would push for, but outraged by another shooting rampage.
“Surely we can do better than this,” he said. “We have an obligation to try.”
It was like a noir film where the flawed hero is just trying to figure out the right thing, no matter who – with their own agenda – was proclaiming this or that. It was also a surprise. No one expected Obama to talk policy, but he had said to a few folks that the previous Friday had been the worst day of his presidency, and that got reported, and he’s a father too. That’s why he opened with this:
To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests, scripture tells us, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day. For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”
That’s an odd thing for a dumb-as-dirt lazy Muslim-Atheist born in Kenya to say, but he was never any of those things anyway – that was a different movie of course – and commentary will pour in soon enough. Some will say he ruined the memorial service by turning it into something political, but others will not. From Andrew Sullivan’s readers, here are two initial reactions:
“Are we prepared that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” Devastating. I started bawling. The most powerful statement I have ever heard uttered from him or any politician. Ever.
There’s this too:
But freedom is not even what needs to be traded to win better control over gun safety. This is the way the gun lobby wants to frame it, in terms of freedom. But really it is merely the convenience and pleasure of gun hobbyists – not a glorious noble freedom – that is being preserved at the cost of these awful innocent deaths.
Nobody complains that their automotive freedom is under threat, yet automobile owners tolerate a host of limitations in the power of their equipment, licensing, registration and insurance requirements, safety standards, and rules of the road when enjoying the freedom of personal transportation. In both cases we entrust adults to own and operate dangerous equipment, but only gun owners scream and howl at the tiniest burden of inconvenience for the sake of safety and aid to law enforcement investigators. It does not kill the freedom to own guns to ask owners to comply with standards for safety reasons. It only adds a little to the cost of that freedom. What we must ask is if that small cost is worth the lives of these innocent babes.
That may be the argument, actually. Freedom has its costs. Some kids must die, except the day brought other news:
Police have arrested a man who fired about 50 shots in the parking lot of a Southern California shopping mall, forcing a lockdown of stores. Newport Beach police spokeswoman Cathy Lowe says 42-year-old Marcos Gurrola fired shots into the air and onto the ground before he was arrested by police officers patrolling around the open-air Fashion Island mall.
That was out here in crazy California and no one was hurt, but this was in the heartland:
A northern Indiana police chief said Sunday he believes a man arrested after allegedly threatening to “kill as many people as he could” at a school was just bluffing when he made the ominous remark during a heated argument with his wife.
Interim Cedar Lake Police Chief Jerry Smith said Von I. Meyer, 60, was arguing early Friday morning with his wife and initially threatened to set her on fire while she was sleeping at their home.
Meyer, who was arrested Saturday on seven felony charges, then told his wife he would kill her “at the school” and “would kill as many people as he could before police could stop him police,” Smith said.
Ah, he was just kidding around, maybe, but this man didn’t seem to be kidding:
Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, says he wishes Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, was armed with an M-4 assault rifle when she confronted Adam Lanza, the shooter who killed 20 children.
“I wish to God she had an M-4 in her office locked up so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids,” Gohmert said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
That’s Fox News for you, but something else was going on over on NBC:
Dianne Feinstein, author of the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired under President George W. Bush in 2004, told “Meet the Press” that she plans to reintroduce the law on the first day of the new Congress in 2013.
Also see Every Single Pro-Gun Rights Senator Declined to Appear On “Meet the Press” Today – all thirty-one senators on record stayed home. It was one of those days. Maybe it was the rain, but Jake Tapper, quoting Daniel Klaidman’s “Kill or Capture,” gives us a little history on why that assault weapons ban never came back:
Now Emanuel had his sights set on Holder. The attorney general had gotten off to a rocky start with the White House with his “nation of cowards” speech. One week later, Holder stepped into it again. On February 25, (2009) Jim Messina, Emanuel’s deputy, walked into his boss’s office to inform him of Holder’s latest “gaffe.” At a press conference earlier that day, Holder had told reporters that the administration would push to reinstate the assault-weapons ban, which had expired in 2004. The comments roused the powerful gun lobby and its water carriers on Capitol Hill. ‘Senators to Attorney General: Stay Away from Our Guns’ read a press release issued by Senator Max Baucus of Montana-a Democrat, no less.
Emanuel was furious. He slammed his desk and cursed the attorney general. Holder was only repeating a position Obama had expressed during the campaign, but that was before the White House needed the backing of pro-gun Democrats from red states for their domestic agenda. The chief of staff sent word to Justice that Holder needed to “shut the fuck up” on guns…
The back story on this is important. Emanuel, as a congressman who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (and as such helped recapture the House) came to understand that for many Democratic members of Congress in swing districts supporting gun control was a liability. The “majority makers,” as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to call them, were often from rural or blue collar districts where the NRA was active.
Rom Emanuel, Obama’s chief-of-staff then and now the mayor in Chicago, saw the politics. And this weekend Obama said screw that – let’s do the right thing. It was Obama’s Humphrey Bogart moment.
Actually it wasn’t his first, as there was this reaction to Obama back in July suggesting reinstating that assault weapons ban:
Obama and his globalist handlers – who ultimately want every gun confiscated – understand that the American people by and large support the Second Amendment. This is why the president patronized hunters and shooters with an oily sleight of hand.
“I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals,” Obama said. “That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.”
In fact, according to the founders, guns – including AK47s in the modern context – belong in the hands of the citizens and their state militias, as plainly and eloquently spelled out in the Second Amendment. Thomas Jefferson and the founders did not craft the Second Amendment to protect the right of hunters and target shooters. It was included – right after the First Amendment guarantying political speech – to ensure the right of citizens to violently oppose a tyrannical federal government if need be.
AK47s and other “assault” weapons are the sort of tools that will be used if push comes to shove and the people must violently oppose the government. Obama supporters and other lovers of the state recoil at the prospect of armed resistance to a tyrannical centralized federal government and refuse to accept that this is what the Second Amendment is all about.
That may be an absurd misreading of history – see this comment – but if you grant that the founders hated the government they had created and wanted to make sure it was overthrown regularly, which is a stretch, that still doesn’t explain Newtown. Still, as a thought experiment, Michael O’Hare tries to apply the one to the other:
The Second Amendment is not about hunting animals and punching paper, it’s about winning a war against the government, and here we have a man who didn’t whine about tyranny, or run and hide: he took up arms like a Real American, went right at the most dangerous hotbed of government freedom-killing subversion, a public school, and put a decisive end to the daily internationalist indoctrination of twenty Connecticut children. But Lanza was not able to kill even thirty people before the jackbooted thugs of blue-state Connecticut imposed their tyrannical will on him, another martyr to liberal sabotage of our Second Amendment God-given rights to insurrection. (Those rights are in the Bible, right where Jesus teaches his wussy disciples to go armed at all times, and practice quick reloading so as to really Render unto Caesar, not just mess with the odd drunk Roman soldier.) The government won the Battle of Newtown in the end – because Lanza was disarmed by the regulations people like Mayor Bloomberg want more of. Government has stuff like tanks and helicopters now, so insurrection (freedom) needs serious hardware. If Lanza (and his mother) had been allowed the belt-fed machine guns, grenades, armor-piercing rockets, and ground-to-air artillery the constitution plainly allows but our surrender-monkey disarmers do not, he could have given the UN a real warning. Patriots need stuff to take down an invisible black helicopter, not toys from an old western movie.
Some, however, may not see Lanza’s intervention exactly as a blow for freedom but in a slightly different light, perhaps as an insane explosion of savagery. Never mind: just turn the page to the other lesson, the one about the importance of arming everyone all the time to prevent mayhem. Everyone, even the principal, went to work without so much as a little .25 caliber automatic, never mind the Uzi, slung dashingly over the shoulder for easy use, that should be a part of every responsible teacher’s equipment. (I myself have nothing but chalk on my sleeve to maintain order in the classroom, and that Uzi would be a real asset to my pedagogy.)
And then there are the kids:
A safe society is one where everyone packs heat all the time: wouldn’t it build character for citizens to learn their responsibility early on? There’s no problem finding a firearm for small hands: if every one of them had had a piece in his desk, and opened up on Lanza from all directions right away, only a few more would be dead now, maybe even fewer, and the survivors would have learned about pride and self-sufficiency instead of fear and surrender. We have fire drills; don’t we care enough about our kids to give them rapid-fire drills? And come to think of it, kindergarten is not too young to learn freedom through armed revolt (see lesson one above): what more oppressive, authoritarian institution is there than a school to its students? K-12 students with suitable weapons could be learning to fight tyranny before the school crushes their spirit and turns them into slaves of big government.
Michael O’Hare is just riffing on what he’s seen out there, and he has the links if you want to read that stuff too. You may not want to. And you might not want to review what was said on Fox News after Obama enough-is-enough speech in Newtown – Obama wants to move unilaterally to take away all our guns – which makes him a tyrant we should probably overthrow – but he wasn’t specific about just what he wants to do – which makes him a lightweight who never really says anything at all – which means we need someone with an actual brain in the White House. It was a bit confusing.
Humphrey Bogart would only smile ruefully. Some of us miss the guy, or at least the characters he played – flawed men, but men who knew when someone was trying to fool them, or use them for their own ends, and refused to cooperate. It’s not heroic, but it will do.