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“Questionable Commitment To Democracy”: The Real Problem With Joni Ernst’s Quote About Guns And The Government

Regular readers will know that I’m a critic of the “My opponent said something objectionable and I’m outraged!” school of campaigning, not to mention the “Candidate said something objectionable!” school of campaign coverage. One of the most important rules in assessing “gaffes” or outsized statements is that if the moment was extemporaneous, out of character, instantly regretted, and not repeated, then we should give it a pass, because it probably reveals next to nothing about the person who said it.

Having said that, there’s a new statement we learn about today from Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst that deserves some scrutiny, and Ernst ought to explain it. The Huffington Post has the news:

Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, said during an NRA event in 2012 that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Ernst’s defenders would say that she was only talking in general, hypothetical terms, and comparisons to Sharron Angle’s 2010 talk of armed revolt against the government are unfair (I’ll get to the Angle comparison in a moment). And it’s true that Ernst is speaking hypothetically here, when she says of the government “should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” That’s different from saying that the government has already decided her rights are no longer important or that armed revolt is actually imminent.

And there are plenty of examples of federal, state, and local governments trampling on people’s rights, particularly since September 11, that are worthy of debate, discussion, even angry condemnation, whether it’s the monitoring of phone calls, the surveillance of anti-war groups, the widespread “stop and frisk” policies that black people in particular are subject to (not something Joni Ernst has to worry about), or the appalling spread of asset forfeiture, under which local police forces and governments just steal innocent people’s money and property.

But if Ernst is talking about some hypothetical situation in which government’s disregard for her rights may necessitate an armed response it’s fair to ask her: What exactly is it? Is she saying that when law enforcement officers come to arrest her on some trumped-up charge, instead of submitting and fighting the charges in court she’ll shoot those officers? Who else is an appropriate target here? Members of Congress who pass laws taking away her rights? FBI agents? Who?

The problem with this new quote is that it borders on anti-democratic. I don’t care how many times you praise the Founding Fathers or talk about your love of the Constitution, if you think that the way to resolve policy differences or personal arguments with the government is not just by trying to get different people elected or waging a campaign to change the laws or filing suits in court, but through the use of violence against the government, you have announced that you have no commitment to democracy. In the American system, we don’t say that if the government enacts policies we don’t like, we’ll start killing people. It’s not clear that Ernst meant this, but it’s fair to ask her to explain what she did mean.

Sharron Angle said: “Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” That sounded a lot more like a call for insurrection, based simply on policy differences with Democrats. Ernst’s statement doesn’t amount to that. But it does fetishize guns as a tool for fighting the government.

The larger context here  is that rhetorical suggestions that democratic processes are legitimate only when they produce desired outcomes have become commonplace. That’s one of the things that has changed in America since Barack Obama got elected. Ernst’s defenders may argue that Ernst is only talking about some future hypothetical takeover by a tyrannical government, in which case an armed response might be appropriate. But how many times in the last six years have we heard conservatives — including well regarded commentators, elected officials, and other people of high standing — talk about the ordinary processes of democracy in the same terms we used to reserve for military coups and despotic campaigns of repression?

Things like Barack Obama’s two elections, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and a hundred other government actions are now routinely called “tyranny” and “fascism” by people just like Joni Ernst. Given that recent history, the defense that she’s talking only about some remote scenario out of “1984″ or “Fahrenheit 451″ is a little hard to believe.

It’s entirely possible that Ernst didn’t mean her statement to come out sounding the way it did. She may have just been mirroring back to her audience their own beliefs. Ernst should be given the opportunity to elaborate — and pressed to answer specific questions about when she thinks it’s acceptable for an American citizen to use violence against representatives of the American government. If she answers those questions in a way that demonstrates a commitment to democracy, I’ll be happy to say that her statement to the NRA should be set aside.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 23, 2014

October 25, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Federal Government, Joni Ernst | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bullets Outweigh Ballots”: Joni Ernst And The Right To Revolutionary Violence

The picture of IA GOP SEN nominee Joni Ernst that’s emerging from exposure of her pre-2014-general-election utterances is of a standard-brand Constitutional Conservative embracing all the strange and controversial tenets of that creed. There’s Agenda 21 madness. There’s Personhood advocacy. There are attacks on the entire New Deal/Great Society legacy–and perhaps even agricultural programs–as creating “dependency.” And now, inevitably, there’s the crown jewel of Con Con extremism: the belief that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to enable “patriots” to violently overthrow the government if in their opinion it’s overstepped its constitutional boundaries. Sam Levine of HuffPost has that story:

Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, said during an NRA event in 2012 that she would use a gun to defend herself from the government.

“I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere,” Ernst said at the NRA and Iowa Firearms Coalition Second Amendment Rally in Searsboro, Iowa. “But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family — whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”

Now this is a guaranteed applause line among Con Con audiences, for reasons that have relatively little to do with gun regulation. The idea here is to intimidate liberals, and “looters” and secular socialists, and those people, that there are limits to what the good virtuous folk of the country will put up with in the way of interference with their property rights and their religious convictions and their sense of how the world ought to work. If push comes to shove, they’re heavily armed, and bullets outweigh ballots. It’s a reminder that if politics fails in protecting their very broad notion of their “rights,” then revolutionary violence–which after all, made this great country possible in the first place–is always an option. And if that sounds “anti-democratic,” well, as the John Birch Society has always maintained, this is a Republic, not a democracy.

This stuff is entirely consistent with everything we’ve been learning about how Joni Ernst talked before she won a Senate nomination and decided upon an aggressively non-substantive message based on her identity and biography and one stupid but apparently irresistible joke comparing the kind of treatment she’ll give to the pork purveyors of Washington (presumably those who support obvious waste like food stamps and Medicaid) to hog castratin.’ Issues are absolute kryptonite to her campaign, so it’s no surprise she’s decided abruptly to cancel all meetings with editorial boards between now and November 4, according to Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu:

Is Joni Ernst afraid of newspaper editorial boards? After much negotiating, she was scheduled to meet his morning with writers and editors at The Des Moines Register, but last night her people called to unilaterally cancel. She has also begged off meetings with The Cedar Rapids Gazette and The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.

Is Ernst that sensitive to the kinds of criticisms that invariably will come in such a high profile U.S. Senate race? Is she afraid of the scrutiny? Sure, it’s stressful, but all the other candidates for Congress are doing it to get their messages out, including Steven King, the target of frequent editorial criticism.

Maybe Ernst’s cynicism will be justified by the results, but I dunno: Iowans are pretty old-school about this kind of thing, and the Register actually influences votes, probably more than any newspaper I can think of. If she does win, nobody in Iowa has any excuse to be surprised if she turns out to be Todd Akin or Sharron Angle with better message discipline. As I said in another post recently, that’s pretty much who she is. Knowing she’s played the “I have the right to overthrow the government with my gun” meme makes that even clearer.

Still, somebody should ask Joni Ernst: “Since you brought it up, exactly what circumstances would justify you shooting a police officer or a soldier in the head?” Oh yeah: that would require her taking questions, which I doubt we’ll see in the last days of this campaign.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 22, 2014

October 24, 2014 Posted by | Iowa, Joni Ernst, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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