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“Here’s How To End The NRA’s Stranglehold On Gun Policy”: Dislodging The Current Hard-Line Leadership With A Palace Coup

Supporters of gun control often characterize the National Rifle Association as a permanent obstacle to sensible reform. Many believe that the group will do anything in its power to keep pushing firearms into a free-for-all marketplace.

But there may be a way to short-circuit the NRA’s grasp on Congress: It involves dislodging the current hard-line leadership with a palace coup — a reverse-replay of the same tactic that brought the guns-above-all wing of the organization into power less than 40 years ago.

The NRA has historically been a far more benign organization, mostly concerned with sport hunting, safety and marksmanship contests. In fact, it had been co-founded immediately after the Civil War by a reporter from the New York Times, ex-Union Army lieutenant colonel William Conant Church, who had been worried about the poor aim of the troops under his command.

In 1934 the NRA’s president testified before Congress: “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” As historian Adam Winkler has noted, the group almost never discussed the Second Amendment in any of its official literature, let alone in its currently strident terms. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the group even favored the end of mail-order rifle sales.

But anxiety about urban crime in the 1970s, combined with gun restrictions enacted out of alarm at the Black Power movement, convinced a subsection of the NRA to make a radical shift in focus. They arrived at the annual meeting on May 21, 1977, at the Cincinnati Convention Center wearing orange hunting caps and, in a parliamentary procedural duel lasting  until 4 a.m., ousted the gun-conservative “Old Guard” from the board.

The insurgents scrapped a plan to move the NRA headquarters from Washington to Colorado Springs, and later built a fortress office in Fairfax, Va. A new executive vice president named Harlon Carter, a Texan with an intolerance for dissent, summed up the new philosophy: “We can win it on a simple concept — no compromise. No gun legislation.” The following year, an ambitious young lobbyist named Wayne LaPierre came on board and made intimidation a business strategy. Today he is executive vice president.

The NRA loves to use the phrase “responsible gun owners” to distinguish their membership from criminals, and indeed, polls from the Pew Research Center show that 74 percent of the membership supports universal background checks. The power of the hard-liners is only reinforced by those members passionate enough to actually show up to NRA conventions and vote in its customarily pro-forma elections.

What’s needed now is for this level-headed majority lurking within the NRA to take over the 76-member board by political force — an exact reversal of what happened to the NRA in Cincinnati.

Any NRA member may put himself or herself forward on the ballot by gathering 250 signatures on a petition. The four-decade reign of darkness that has cost hundreds of thousands of American lives could be put to an end on May 21, 2016, at the next convention in Louisville, Ky.

The leadership is aware that such a move is possible and has acted to squelch challenges through its nominating committee, which endorses its preferred candidates for the board. But an informed rump caucus can still put its candidates forward to a floor vote. All it would take is enough moderates who have grown disgusted with the current regime to make the trip to Kentucky. The annual membership meeting tends to be attended by very few of the actual members, and — even if a coup fails — a vigorous discussion might force some concessions and give hope to those who see the NRA as unbreakable.

There’s another reason for a royal Restoration beyond saving lives, and it has to do with the preservation of the NRA as a legitimate body. Its current path is both reckless and unsustainable. It supports policies that benefit criminals. It gives all gun owners a disreputable name and lumps them in with the zealots.

Should an internal coup be successful, there would, of course, be an immediate regrouping. It’s entirely possible that extremists would form a brand-new organization dedicated to the same bullying tactics or would join already-existing fringe groups. But it would also disrupt the gun rights bloc, which has for too long covered up a long-simmering ideological divide between those who recognize the need for sane regulations and safety precautions and those who cry apocalypse at the slightest twinge of government movement.

Honor and prudence must be restored to gun ownership in the United States before the private ownership of firearms becomes even more disreputable. Instead of continuing its deadly obstructionism, the NRA can purge itself of its Gucci-clad fanatics and practice some genuine leadership.


By: Tom Zoellner, Opinion Page, In Theory, The Washington Post, December 11, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns, Gunsense, National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Just Hiding In The Weeds”: Why Ted Cruz Is Happy Hiding In Donald Trump’s Shadow

On Monday, a few hours before Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Ted Cruz was asked whether he expects Trump to come after him, now that one leading poll has the Texas senator ahead in the coveted early voting state of Iowa. “Listen, I like and respect Donald Trump,” said Cruz. “I continue to like and respect Donald Trump. While other candidates in this race have gone out of their way to throw rocks at him, to insult him, I have consistently declined to do so, and I have no intention of changing that now.”

True to his word, Cruz refused to join the pack of Republican hopefuls who piled onto the front-runner’s latest obscenity. At a press conference the following morning to announce a Senate bill barring the resettlement of Syrian refugees, Cruz appeared alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott and continued to dance around the question of Trump’s naked racism, at one point commending the Donald for “focusing the American people’s attention” on the urgency of fending off foreign invaders. Pressed for a direct response to Trump’s ban on Muslims, Cruz finally conceded, “I do not agree with [Trump’s] proposal. I do not think it is the right solution.”

The right solution, you may be surprised to learn, is Cruz’s solution, which he just happened to introduce in the Senate the morning after Trump belched out his own. The modestly titled “Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act” would substitute Trump’s blanket, possibly unconstitutional ban with a more targeted—and, in certain senses, crueler—three-year moratorium on the resettlement of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and any other country determined to contain “terrorist-controlled territory.” Where Trump’s answer is typically lacking in nuance, Cruz’s bill is designed to “focus very directly on the threat.” He’s casting it as the principled, measured alternative to a vaguely defined problem that both candidates insist exists.

“This is not about the Islamic faith,” Cruz explained to NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday. “It is about Islamism, which is a very different thing.” The conservatives Cruz is courting don’t appear to recognize the distinction, and it would be naive to think that Cruz isn’t perfectly aware of that. According to a new Bloomberg poll, two-thirds of likely Republican voters support Trump’s indiscriminate prohibition; one-third say it makes them more inclined to vote for him.

If Cruz truly wanted to set his intentions apart from Trump’s, he could start by refuting the white-supremacist propaganda Trump has pointed to as evidence that “Muslim” is indeed synonymous with “terrorist sympathizer.” But Cruz, the champion debater and seasoned appellate attorney, is careful to present his disagreement with Trump as rooted in policy, not premise. “That is not my view of how we should approach it,” Cruz told NPR. He’s happy to let voters decide what the “it” is.

Trump’s precipitous descent into outright fascism is widely considered to be a problem for the GOP—and in some ways it is. But for Cruz, never a party loyalist to begin with, it’s also created a unique opportunity to channel the energies of racial anxiety into a comparatively palatable, mainstream campaign for the presidency. A number of commentators have noted that Cruz is positioning himself to consolidate Trump’s support in the eventual event of his collapse—which, we keep being told, will be arriving any day now.

But the net, and more dangerous, effect of Cruz’s strategy is to legitimize the racism that informs Trump’s. Two weeks ago, Cruz was on the extreme end of a national debate over admitting people fleeing the ravages of countries the United States has made war on. By allowing Trump to “effectively outbid” him in the wake of the San Bernadino massacre, as NPR’s Inskeep put it, Cruz has come out looking relatively moderate and responsible in an entirely new discussion about whether the basis of U.S. policy should be overt xenophobia or implied xenophobia.

Each of the remaining Republican contenders is cognizant of the need to create rhetorical distance from Trump without disavowing the sentiments he’s churned up from below. Carly Fiorina called closing the borders to Muslims an “overreaction”—a euphemism that became a false equivalence when she compared it to President Obama’s “dangerous” underreaction to the supposed threat. Marco Rubio criticized the form of Trump’s comments but not their substance, saying only that Trump’s “habit of making offensive and outlandish statements will not bring Americans together.” Jeb Bush, who supports imposing a religious test on the admission of refugees, called Trump “unhinged.” Ben Carson, who disagrees with Trump’s proposed ban because he does “not advocate being selective on one’s religion,” has previously stated that a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be president.

The other candidates may recognize the dilemma posed by the stubborn popularity of Trump’s ravings, but no one has been as deliberate, or effective, in incorporating the strains of white nationalism into their own overarching strategy as Cruz has. He’s hewed closely—but, critically, not too closely—to Trump’s noxious line on immigration and refugees, which Cruz frequently ties together with warnings of an impending invasion from the south. “Border security is national security,” he said in a statement on Sunday prior to President Obama’s address about terrorism and the San Bernadino shootings. “I will shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country,” he reiterated later.

So far, Trump’s flamboyant nativism has drawn all the scrutiny, leaving Cruz to concentrate on raising money and building out his ground game. He knows better than to openly embrace the most jarring of Trump’s flourishes, but he won’t attack them, either—and when others do, Cruz is right there holding the flank. President Obama sounds like a “condescending school marm lecturing the American people against Islamophobia,” Cruz told NPR’s Inskeep. At the last Republican debate, he invoked his Cuban-American heritage as a cover for the field’s more general shift in the direction of mass deportation and wall-building: “For those of us who believe people ought to come to this country legally, and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.” Two weeks later, campaigning on the road in Iowa alongside Representative Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King of Iowa, perhaps the most aggressively ignorant anti-immigration crusader in Congress, Cruz assured reporters that “tone matters” when it comes to these issues.

In an effort to explain his latest step down the road to the internment camp, some have speculated that Trump is attempting to fend off Cruz’s surging poll numbers. If so, he misunderstands the nature of Cruz’s maneuvering, as well as the depth of Cruz’s patience. With each reflexive lurch toward a darker, more explicitly ugly politics, Trump draws more attention to himself but also clears more ideological space for Cruz. Lindsey Graham, who’s polling somewhere ahead of Louis Farrakhan in the race for the Republican nomination, told the Guardian, “It’s time for Ted Cruz to quit hiding in the weeds and speak out against Donald Trump’s xenophobia and racial bigotry.”

But Ted Cruz likes it in the weeds just fine. He’s made it this far trudging through the muck, and there’s no reason for him to change course anytime soon.


By: Steven Cohen, The New Republic, December 10, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Slippery Slope To Trump’s Proposed Ban On Muslims”: The Exploitation Of Anti-Muslim Feelings For Political Purposes

With little fanfare this fall, the New York developer who had planned to build an Islamic community center north of the World Trade Center announced that he would instead use the site for a 70-story tower of luxury condos.

Those who had rallied in opposition to the building because of its religious affiliation back in 2010 were exultant. “The importance of the defeat of the Ground Zero Mosque cannot be overstated,” Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, wrote on the website Breitbart in September. “The Ground Zero Mosque became a watershed issue in our effort to raise awareness of and ultimately halt and roll back the advance of Islamic law and Islamic supremacism in America.”

“Islamic supremacism in America.” Really?

It’s all well and good that so many Republicans have condemned Donald Trump’s reprehensible call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) was particularly forceful, calling proper attention to the “many Muslims serving in our armed forces, dying for this country.”

When he was president, George W. Bush honorably put a lid on right-wing Islamophobia. He regularly praised American Muslims and stressed that the United States needed Muslim allies to fight violent extremism. Once Bush was gone, restraint on his side of politics fell away.

Thus, Trump’s embrace of a religious test for entry to our country did not come out of nowhere. On the contrary, it simply brought us to the bottom of a slippery slope created by the ongoing exploitation of anti-Muslim feeling for political purposes.

You don’t have to reach far back in time to see why Trump figured he had the ideological space for his Muslim ban. Last month, it was Jeb Bush who introduced the idea of linking the rights of Syrian refugees to their religion. He said he was comfortable granting admission to “people like orphans and people who are clearly not going to be terrorists. Or Christians.” Asked how he’d determine who was Christian, he explained that “you can prove you’re a Christian.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) took a similar view, saying , “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.”

Trump took limits on Muslim access to our country to their logical — if un-American and odious — conclusion. Vice President Biden said that Trump was serving up “a very, very dangerous brew,” but the brew has been steeping for a long time. This is why the “Ground Zero Mosque” episode is so instructive.

The demagoguery began with the labeling of the controversy itself. As PolitiFact pointed out, “the proposed mosque is not at or on Ground Zero. It does not directly abut it or overlook it.” It was “two long blocks” away. And while a mosque was part of the proposed cultural center, the plans also included “a swimming pool, gym and basketball court, a 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant and culinary school, a library and art studios.”

This didn’t stop opponents from going over the top, and Newt Gingrich deserved some kind of award for the most incendiary comment of all. “Nazis,” he said, “don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”

When President Obama defended the right of developers to build the project, he was — surprise, surprise — accused of being out of touch, and Republicans were happy to make the Muslim center and Obama’s defense of religious rights an issue in the 2010 campaign.

“I think it does speak to the lack of connection between the administration and Washington and folks inside the Beltway and mainstream America,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), who was then chairman of the committee in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate. Voters, he said, felt they were “being lectured to, not listened to.” Sound familiar?

At the time, John Feehery, the veteran Republican strategist, put his finger on why Republicans were so eager to lambaste Obama’s response to the Ground Zero issue. “This will help drive turnout for the GOP base,” he said.

The Republican establishment is now all upset with Trump, but he is simply the revenge of a Republican base that took its leaders’ pandering — on Islam and a host of other issues — seriously.

You can’t be “just a little” intolerant of Muslims, any more than you can be “just a little” prejudiced against Catholics or Jews. Once the door to bigotry is opened, it is very hard to shut.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 9, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Ground Zero Mosque, Islamophobia, Muslims | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Task That Cannot Be Avoided”: The Necessary Task Of Integrating Islam Within The West

In what is both a reflection and an amplification of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in this country, Donald Trump has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Trump’s xenophobic statement and the popular fears it reflects have to be addressed intelligently and forcefully. We should begin addressing them by admitting that there are unique challenges with integrating Muslims and Islam itself into polities shaped by Western liberalism. But it is a task that has to be done. It cannot be avoided even by the most extreme restrictions on immigration or travel, because Muslims are our already our neighbors. And in an age of decentralized authority and instant digital communication, Islam will remain a way of life available to anyone in the West.

A particularly intense example of America’s Trumpian Islamophobia was captured at a town meeting in Virginia over plans to build a mosque. A man erupted at a Muslim who was speaking, “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period.” Others at the meeting applauded the erupting man for saying that he didn’t want Islam’s “death cult” in his town.

That is ignorant and wrong. But if you will, consider a more thoughtful and advanced version of this argument: The Prophet Muhammad was a military leader and conqueror, a militant posture that shapes Islam to this day. The Grand Ayatollah was telling the truth when he said “Islam is politics or it is nothing.” Osama bin Laden’s fatwa against America was totally consistent with the texts and spirit of early Islam. Today’s millions upon millions of non-violent Muslims could reasonably be described as lax Muslims.

It’s easy enough to dismiss that argument as bigoted, too, and to note that it fails to recognize the very real variety within Islam. At the same time, we should recognize that our culture entertains similarly structured arguments against more familiar religions.

People argue that Christianity is inherently sexist. Or that Catholicism’s view of authority makes it resistant to civil law. We see and sometimes nurture the same preening, vandal spirit of the “Draw Muhammad day” when we call a condom-portrait of Pope Benedict art. Some of the right-wing criticisms of Islam or the customs of immigrants from Islamic countries can have a distinctively secularist flavor, for instance, their fear about the spread of female genital mutilation. It’s possible that the discomfort some progressives have with criticizing Islam itself forcefully would disappear if Muslims seemed like a less vulnerable minority than they are. How do we get there?

Some say that today’s anxiety around Muslim immigration is as irrational as previous fears about integrating immigrant Catholics in American life. That’s too glib. While even the highest authorities in Catholicism of the 19th century did occasionally declare itself hostile to liberal society, the truth is that liberalism itself was shaped by its Christian inheritance. Islam’s tensions with the West run much deeper than Catholicism’s tensions with America ever did. Islam differs in important ways from Judaism and Christianity. There is Islam’s emphasis on jurisprudence over theology. And Islam’s form of triumphalism, which has more difficulty reconciling itself to a world in which Islamic ideas are marginal.

But Western Christians or secular people should not presume to tell Muslims that true Islam is violent. It is easy to find quietist strains of Islam that impress with their piety and devotion to the texts that are at the heart of Islam. A number of scholars and Islamic commentators, from Muhammad Abduh to Fazlur Rahman, have preached an Islam that is in creative tension with the West, rather than outright conflict.

Besides, America’s liberal bargain, more than Europe’s, is capacious and could accommodate a variety of expressions of Islam, just as it accommodates a variety of other religions, some of which build communities that strike us as illiberal. The challenges this represents may be truly awkward, but they are nonetheless necessary.

Consider the community of Samtar Hasidic Jews at Kiryas Joel in Monroe, New York, which has historically fallen within my own Congressional district. This community of Jews sees huge increases of its population because of its incredible fertility rate and welcome attitude to its own co-religionists. Nearly 90 percent of the community speaks Yiddish at home. Nearly half cannot speak English competently. It is widely reported that religious authorities in Kiryas Joel can swing the vote of the town and with their vote, the divided Congressional district in which it sits. Kiryas Joel’s residents have an awkward and sometimes legally combative relationship with their Monroe neighbors over planning and development.

There in Kiryas Joel is much of what people claim to fear about Islamic integration, a separate, “unmeltable” group, one that keeps to its own language and folkways. And yet Kiryas Joel’s peaceful existence with its neighbors is a testament not only to that community’s genius, but the genius of America as well. There is simply no pressing reason for New York to tear up its very generous legal settlement to assimilate Kiryas Joel on its own terms.

Similarly, there is no inherent reason for America to tear up its legal settlement in response to Islam itself. There may be good reasons to limit immigration from Muslim nations. I believe there are. But they are not substantively very different from reasons to limit immigration from any or all nations.

And finally, if the anti-Muslim chauvinists really cannot handle any of the above arguments, the final argument for finding a way to better integrate Muslims should be to prove the superiority of the West itself. Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities have existed within Islamic civilization for over a millennia, not without incident, and not without awkward or painful compromises. If the West is better and stronger than Islamic civilization, it should be able to tolerate religious minorities better than Islamic civilization, too.


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, December 10, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | Islam, Muslims, Western Civilization | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Will Sink Or Swim With The White Nativist Vote”: Doesn’t Matter What Rubio Or Cruz Campaigns Plan For This Election

This morning Greg Sargent did a good job of laying out the different electoral strategies of the Rubio and Cruz campaigns.

Marco Rubio has sought to project an optimistic, inclusive aura that seems designed not just to unite Republicans but also to appeal (at least on the margins) to Latinos and millennials. By contrast, while Cruz says publicly that he wants to win over Reagan “Democrats,” the more plausible interpretation of his approach is that it’s built around the idea that the electorate is hopelessly polarized and that maximizing conservative and GOP [white] base turnout is the route to victory.

The only thing I’d add is that, with his increasingly extremists statements during the primary, Rubio is likely going for what Eric Fehrnstrom described as Romney’s “etch-a-sketch” strategy: hoping that voters will wipe the slate clean when it comes time for the general election.

On the other hand, the Cruz strategy reminds me of something Adam Serwer wrote way back in 2011 in the lead-up to the 2012 election.

The Republican Party had a choice after 2008. They could continue to rely on a dwindling but still decisive share of the white vote to prevail, or they could try to bring more minorities into the party. While I’m not entirely sure how much of the decision was made by party leaders and how much is merely the unprecedented influence of Fox News, but whether it’s pseudo scandals of the past two years, from birtherism to the NBPP [New Black Panther Party] case, the GOP’s nationwide rush to ban sharia and institute draconian immigration laws, or characterizing nearly every administration policy as reparations, the conservative fixations of Obama’s first term indicate that the GOP will end up relying at least in part on inflaming white racial resentment to close the gap.

Sounds positively prophetic right now, doesn’t it?

Of course, the Republicans lost the 2012 presidential election and immediately performed their infamous “autopsy,” which found that they needed to do a better job of reaching out to women and people of color. We all know how that’s been going.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what the Rubio or Cruz campaigns plan for this election. Back in the 1970’s the Republican Party decided to go with a Southern Strategy and built their electoral base on a platform of white resentment. Since then, they have only reinforced that with everything from Reagan’s “welfare queens” to Bush’s Willie Horton ad. At this point, they can’t abandon that base with any plausible effort to make their party attractive to people of color. The GOP will sink or swim with the white nativist vote.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Post, December 10, 2015

December 12, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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