Sunday, January 13, 2013

If This Then That, If That Then This

     A good marriage, a good partnership, a good relationship – the backbone of each is to believe in and support your opposite number, even when they have a point of view or take an action that you might not have individually subscribed to.  I think it is fair to say virtually all of us are more distantly connected to politicians than to our spouses, or to our close business associates and personal friends.  Yet one of the favorite attack modes -- launched frequently by moral relativists on the left -- is to say if you support Politician X then you must support/oppose something else that Politician X supports or opposes.  Otherwise you are a liar or a hypocrite.  I for one put most politicians up there with death and taxes, inevitable but not pleasant.  I no more support or oppose every position of a particular politician than I support or oppose every tax.   And while I accept the inevitability of death and understand its role in renewal and how it fits within the vision of our Creator, I can’t say I’m a avid supporter.   The world just isn’t that binary.

 
     A most recent instance of position by association involves support for an assault weapons ban.  I believe, hands down, that Ronald Reagan was the best President in my lifetime.  Reagan was an expert practitioner in the art of projecting power to secure peace, while negotiating face-to-face resolutions with adversaries.  He totally got the power of markets and competition to build prosperity and understood the roles of liberty and freedom in promoting and protecting the same.  And he connected with people on a highly personal and individual level.   On a practical level, Reagan implemented reforms that dramatically improved the government’s long-run fiscal stability (e.g., increasing social security funding and narrowing eligibility for social security benefits to target core beneficiaries, reducing federal pensions by more than one-half, and reducing the frequency of COLA adjustments).  

     We have been told in recent days that Ronald Reagan supported an assault weapon ban; if you believe in Ronald Reagan you should also believe in eliminating assault weapons.   Let’s examine this call for orthodoxy.  
     In the first place, let us look at Reagan’s May 4, 1994 letter to the House of Representatives signed also by fellow former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.   That letter states,  
“We are writing to urge your support for a ban on the domestic manufacture of military-style assault weapons. This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety. Although assault weapons account for less than 1% of the guns in circulation, they account for nearly 10% of the guns traced to crime.”
I say props to the boys for supplying empirical support for their position.   Their advocacy succeeded – a decade-long assault weapon ban went into effect, the inference from the then available empirical data being the ban would prevent or reduce gun violence.  In terms of what actually happened after the ban was enacted, the evidence is murky, at best.  Daniel J. Woods, and Jeffrey A. Roth of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania found no statistically significant evidence that either the assault weapons ban or the ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds had reduced gun murders.   A 2004 critical review of research on firearms by a National Research Council panel noted that academic studies of the assault weapon ban "did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence."  If Ronald Reagan were alive today, who says with new evidence that he would continue to support the ban?  It’s an unknown.
    More importantly, did Ronald Reagan, the Ronald Reagan we knew and loved, actually support the ban?   I doubt it.  Look at the timing.  Ronald Reagan signed two letters of import in 1994, the first referenced above, was typewritten, presumably drafted by some intermediary and signed jointly.  The second letter was composed from Reagan’s heart and was drafted in cursive handwriting, informing the country he had contracted Alzheimer’s disease and was withdrawing from public life.   The New York Times reported that evidence of Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer’s disease emerged in 1992 and 1993 and became impossible to hide in early 1994.
“The Alzheimer's almost became evident in an embarrassing way in February 1994 when Mr. Reagan spoke to 2,500 people celebrating his 83d birthday in Washington. It is thought to have been his last public speech and last visit to the capital.”
Twilight was well underway.
      I’ll add my speculation.  Something like this played out.  Nancy Reagan approached Ronny (as she called him) with the draft letter, endorsed by his predecessors, and said they would like you to sign this.   And Jim and Sarah Brady (his wounded and disabled former press secretary and wife, strong gun control advocates) have asked for the favor of your signature.  Ronald Reagan kindly obliged – a simple personal favor, not a lasting statement of Constitutional principle.   That action makes me simpatico with Reagan.  I believe in the beauty and humanity of simple personal favors.

       

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