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Guest Commentary

Of the NRA, Welch, Bonhoeffer and Dilbert

1/2/2013

In the decade of the 1920s, journalist and muckraker Lincoln Steffens was much impressed by the Communist revolution in Russia. So much so that — until he soured on Russia in the early 1930s — he often said, “I have seen the future, and it works.”                

Now almost 100 years later, New York Times columnist Gail Collins is as dead-right as Steffens was dead-wrong. Much depressed by the gun lobby and the GOP right wing, Collins wrote in her Dec. 22 column, “We have seen the future, and everything involves negotiating with loony people.”                

The Steffens and Collins quotes came to mind, along with several others, as sort of déjà vu, “Been there, done that,” reactions to the recent slaughter in Newtown, Conn., and the response from the National Rifle Association and then the Fiscal Cliff political nonsense and the even more nonsensical responses from the GOP right.                

After all, Wayne La Pierre, CEO of the NRA, declared that the answer to having too many assault weapons readily available was to make more assault weapons readily available. In response, could you top the quote from Attorney Joseph Welch at the Army-McCarthy hearings on June 9, 1954? Mr. Welch was talking to the junior senator from Wisconsin, but his words may as well have targeted La Pierre and the NRA:              

“You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”                

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That question likely would bounce off La Pierre as it bounced off Joe McCarthy at the hearings; but at least it marked the beginning of the end for the Senator as a nation regained some of its sanity — something we can pray for today.

But the problem comes back to Collins’ view of “negotiating with loony people.”              

The comic strip Dilbert has had its hero cry out in anguish, “When did ignorance become a point of view?”                

A far more sobering perspective came from Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in 1943, two years before he was executed by the Nazis in their last paroxysm as Allied forces neared victory. Bonhoeffer wrote about dealing with evil and dealing with folly:              

“Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than malice. You can protect against malice, you can unmask it or prevent it by force. Malice always contains the seeds of its own destruction, for it always makes men uncomfortable, if nothing worse. There is no defence against folly. Neither protests nor force are of any avail against it, and it is never amendable to reason. If facts contradict personal prejudices, there is no need to believe them, and if they are undeniable, they can simply be pushed aside as exceptions…We shall never again try to reason with the fool, for it is both useless and dangerous.”                

That’s pretty heavy stuff, but again it ties in so well with the dysfunctional government and weird arguments confronting us today.                

What to do?             

One answer was offered by Gil Cranberg, and is on his blog site (truthblog.us) as “A Deathly Silence.” You can look it up, but one point he made was that rather than having just a moment of silence in memory of the Newtown victims we should also have outrage, protest and indignation. Another way of saying that is that we should put democracy to work and pressure responsible political leaders to put an end to the folly.                                    

We must craft sane public policy when it comes to gun control and craft sane public policy when it comes to ending the widening gap between the haves and the have nots in our nation.                

At long last, have we no sense of decency? CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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