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The Death of Genuine Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Because I cannot imagine the pain the parents of Sandy Hook are suffering, I hope every senator agrees to meet with them and hear them out.

I welcome any or all of them to my radio show to tell me how I and my audience can help them and their families.


Grief and sorrow do not only wound but they also can serve to energize and clarify.

Just last week two amazing Gold Star mothers--Nancy Soltes and Lindy Daily--came into the studio to alert people about the construction of a Fisher House in Long Beach that they are championing. They are using the memory of their sons and their sacrifice to power their service to others.

So too are the moms and dads of Newtown, and they deserve a hearing. But they ought not to expect instant agreement or even eventual consent. What they have is a testimony that ought to be heard and respected, but the very difficult issue of how to prevent another delegation of sorrow like theirs from ever having to come to the Capitol is difficult beyond imagining.

A nation indifferent to freedom could simply decree that no guns would be allowed in private hands. That would require repeal of the second Amendment, but it could be done.

A nation tired of pornography and violence on big and little screens and in video games could abridge the First Amendment. A country weary of courtroom spectacles could tinker with the Sixth Amendment.

All of the terrible and not-so-terrible sorrows, hardships and coarse features of modern life could be done away with via changes to the basic structure of how we live and have lived for centuries, as a people preferring freedom to order.


The particular problem of insane people or fanatics doing great violence--yesterday it was knife-wielding maniac on a Texas college campus, tomorrow it will be a gun or a bomb somewhere else--ought to trouble every good hearted person. My friend Congressman John Campbell wrote one of the best essays on this after the Newtown massacre and I recommend it to you.

How it would be good for the president or the vice president or Harry Reid or Diane Feinstein to just once--once--confront the dilemma that their proposals don't seem to have much chance of actually working to prevent the next horror. It would be so much more honest if they were to advocate for confiscation of weapons or a serious, thorough-going registry of individuals diagnosed with significant mental disability.

We do register and publicize the locations of sexual predators, but of course we know that mental illness is almost always not accompanied by violence and so we recoil from the prospect of over-inclusiveness on a list of potentially dangerous people. We do not want to add to the stigma of mental illness for fear of driving people away from rather than into treatment.

We have also so paralyzed professionals with fear of lawsuits that doctors treating the killers of Tucson or Aurora or Newtown don't have a "red button" option that would put those young men on a "watch list" while sparing the vast majority of patients from similar scrutiny.


It is the same problem that stopped his colleagues from calling out Major Hassan as a fanatic who could destroy lives.

Responsibility cannot be legislated unless and until an honest debate of the problems of doing so is conducted, and that is not going to happen because of the media culture promulgated by millions of online wannabes who daily tear and distort serious conversation into sound bites and heavily edited quotes.

MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry is complaining that her absurd and self-parodying "promo" has generated an "inbox filling with hateful, personal attacks."

It won't be very long though until she or her guests are using caricatures of her political opponents that don't even bother to play their entire statements --as most conservative commentators have been willing to play her entire "promo"-- as props in their arguments.

This diseased media is why the parents of Newtown won't change many votes even as they elicit genuine sympathy. No political figure dares admit even an ounce of truth exists on the opposite side of the aisle for fear of becoming the "clip of the day," distorted and replayed a thousand times.

Now come the heirs of the Watergate burglars --David Corn and his band of courageous G. Gordon Liddys of the left-- to add to the already widespread paralysis of public debate on the omnipresent threat of bugging. An already frozen public discourse will migrate into all but the smallest gatherings, and we will end up with zero debate and endless displays of symbolism substituting for argument and persuasion.


No answer here, just a recognition that very, very few places hold out against this trend. A few shows on talk radio, a few on cable, an occasional magazine or website has serious, sustained argument within it. That is the overarching problem within every problem. Everyone knows it, and no one can fix it.

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