"Civic Character": The New "Civility"

Posted: Jan 15, 2013 9:25 AM

Marc Ambinder posits that the gun debate might be elevated by the invocation of "civic character":

[A]fter the 2nd amendment was passed, the number of gun regulations in states and localities expanded significantly. It was absolutely OK to regulate gun use; that wasn't terribly controversial until the 1960s, actually. But regulation was predicated on men being able to possess them in the first place. One example: In Pennsylvania, if you refused to swear a loyalty oath to the state during the American revolution, your firearm could be confiscated. Massachusetts forbade those who participated in Shay's rebellion from re-arming themselves, ever. What Fordham University historians Saul Cornell and Nathan DeDino call the "civic character" of gun ownership might well be a way to discuss the debate going forward.

It's a nice idea but -- forgive my cynicism -- it's of doubtful efficacy.  That's because liberals invoke concepts of "character" only in selected contexts for the propagation of their favored policies.

I (and, I suspect, most other conservatives) would be open to (even enthusiastic about!) discussing the "'civic character' of gun ownership" -- but only in the context of a discussion on "civic character" as a whole. Some topics that might fruitfully come up: Is it good "civic character" to try to isolate and demonize one (productive) segment of society for America's economic woes?  Is it good "civic character" to lie about the goals, character and aims of one's opposition? How about MSM efforts to make Christians look ignorant, and the pervasive double standard between coverage of Dems and Republicans?

What kind of "civic character" is demonstrated by the fact that Democrats seem reluctant to restrict the use of taxpayer dollars by welfare recipients at strip clubs?  In an era of cheap and readily accessible birth control, what does it say about our "civic character" that nearly half of all pregnancies in the US are "unintended" and 40% of them result in abortion (here's a summary of the public economic impact).  How about consistently attributing genuine policy differences to invidious motives -- like racism?

Here's the point: Just about everyone in the GOP would be delighted to have a robust discussion on "civic character." But there's no way that discussion should be limited only to the topics hand-picked by Democrats.  And we've seen the full extent of the left's hypocrisy in the aftermath of the high-minded calls for "civility."  Exhibit A: A Democrat president and senators using a vulgar double entendre to denigrate those who disagree with them politically.

So forgive my skepticism about similar invocations of an undefined "civic character" in the context of the gun debate -- but my sense is that it's only the newest iteration of the familiar old "civility" hypocrisy.  Been there, done that.

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