Political Animal


January 23, 2013 9:05 AM LaPierre the Proud Absolutist

By Ed Kilgore

In his litany of anathemas aimed at today’s conservative extremists during the second inaugural address, the president said: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle.” That could have well been aimed at an awful lot of people making that “mistake” in an awful lot of ways, from the Tea Partiers who think the domestic policies of the Gilded Age came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets as an eternal template for the nation, to the supply-siders who believe minimizing marginal tax rates on rich people is the evergreen answer to every problem, to the conservative culture-warriors who treat their opponents quite literally as demonic. It could have even been aimed at people on Obama’s side of the ideological spectrum who often consider him “unprincipled” for yielding to legislative realities.

But while it doesn’t appear the criticism of “absolutism” was a reference to anyone in particular, the National Rife Association’s Wayne LaPierre went out of his way to take it personally in what was described in news reports as a “fiery speech” at a hunters’ conference in Nevada:

That reference, Mr. LaPierre said, was intended as an attack on the N.R.A. and gun owners who believe that the Second Amendment to the Constitution provides an absolute right to bear arms.
“I urge our president to use caution when attacking clearly defined absolutes in favor of his principles,” Mr. LaPierre said. “When absolutes are abandoned for principles, the U.S. Constitution becomes a blank slate for anyone’s graffiti.”

Now it’s unusual for someone wielding the ancient “relativism” battle-ax to describe one’s liberal foe as having “principles,” but LaPierre wants to make it clear principles aren’t enough: “his” constitutional amendment has to be interpreted in the most absolute, unconditional manner possible. And he seems genuinely upset that Obama would try to turn “absolutism into a dirty word.”

But in the same speech, LaPierre claims “absolutism” is “the basis of all civilization.”

“Without it,” he said, “Without those absolutes, without those protections, democracy decays into nothing more than two wolves and one lamb voting on, well, who to eat for lunch.”

LaPierre’s use of a hoary conservative joke meant to denounce democracy itself is interesting. But I’m all for honoring his request to be proudly labeled an “absolutist”—someone who believes every principle—yes principle—of our democracy should be subjected to the demand that heavily-armed minorities should have the right to prepare for the violent overthrow of the United States government if they consider it “tyrannical.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • G.Kerby on January 23, 2013 10:12 AM:

    Is Lapierre in "the closet" ? When his rant interrupted the show I had on, I was looking away from the screen, and thought it was the voice of Paul Lynde. And his name translates to The Peter, but with a feminine article instead of Le.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 23, 2013 10:13 AM:

    And yet the funny thing is, as much as they think they stand for eternal principles, no one these days is more postmodern than Republicans. Facts are only facts if we like them. Everyone must swear allegiance to the President, like him or not, except when the President isn't a Republican. But Republican Presidents are infallible, until they can't run for office and are incredibly toxic, then they're not conservative enough. Deficits don't matter, unless we want to sink the ship and drown the captain, in which case they matter a lot, but only because prioritizing them might stifle the economy. Executive orders are a legitimate way for the President to manage his branch, except when we don't like the President, then they're fascist. The President must be Muslim because I feel like he's Muslim, and wants to take away our guns just because I feel like he wants to take away our guns. Facts are whatever I say they are. Need I go on?

    So Republicans aren't really very big believers in absolute truth at all, except on a few issues including maximal promotion of guns to all.

  • c u n d gulag on January 23, 2013 10:19 AM:

    Until we can shake human society from the Manichean views of Black v. White, Good v. Evil, Right v. Wrong, God v. Satan, etc., we will continue killing and wounding one another, both physically and mentally, and, for the religiously inclined people, spiritually.

    I'll repeat:
    NO ONE wants to take away your few handguns to protect your family and property.
    NO ONE wants to take away your handful of rifles to go hunting with.

    OURS, is not a Manichean view. The NRA's is.

    But, if the NRA is to be consistent, then why not clammor for all sorts of military assault weapons, in addition to semi-automatic handguns and rifles?

    If, truly, the 2nd Amendment IS to arm "We the people" against our own tyrannical government, and not as part of well-regulated state militias being a 'hold-the-fort' option until a standing army could be collected, armed, and trained, then why isn't the NRA calling for the individual right to own hand grenades, bazooka's, tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft missiles, attack helicopters, drones, ICMB's, and tactical nukes?

    Surely, it doesn't take a 'rocket surgeon' to figure out that a bunch of White Supremacists, as well armed and trained as they may be, would be no match for only a tiny sliver of our military.
    Fighting our military with the weapons these fools have, would be like bringing a rubber stage-knife to a gunfight.

    There is no consistency.
    Therefore, there should be no argument.

    Keep your simple handguns and rifles, and hand back the military assault weapons and extra-large magazines.
    And if you won't hand them back, then there will be some pretty pennies you'll have to spend to keep them.

    Have simple handguns and rifles?
    Register and insure your guns.
    Get certified semi-annually.
    And, pay a small tax.

    Want to keep assault weapons?
    The registration amount will be prohibitive.
    You will need to be certified annually - also at a higher fee.
    And, like a teenager with a fast sports car, you will pay a much higher insurance rate, and your taxes on your weapons will be much, much higher.

    I have as much of a right to live in a gun-free society, as you do to live in an armed one.

    Perhaps what I've listed above, is a away that we both can peacefully coexist.
    You want guns?
    You pay for them.
    Just like if you want cars - you have to pay for them.

  • mellowjohn on January 23, 2013 10:30 AM:

    apropos of G. Kerby's comment, lapierre's body language and mannerisms reminded me of a completely unfunny lewis black.

  • CharlieM on January 23, 2013 10:32 AM:

    I think you're being too generous Ed.
    I don't know anyone who didn't see that reference to absolutism as anything other than a direct reference to 2nd amendment absolutists including LaPierre.
    May not have called him out by name. But as the most vocal and visible of them, it left no doubt in my mind that Obama was addressing LaPierre personally and collectively.

  • Celui on January 23, 2013 10:35 AM:

    @G.Kerby: You are correct that Wayno's (Whine-o's) name is a pseudo-French derivative, using a feminine article. However, it's more likely that 'LaPierre' is actually 'the rock/stone (headed, souled) one', than 'the Peter.' Surely, the French, with their expansive vocabulary, would have had a quite different word for 'prick' in this instance.

    By the way, isn't Wayno just an ''absolute'' shill for his corporate masters? Quite!

  • Shane Taylor on January 23, 2013 10:35 AM:

    Gun control is a law and order issue. So, I encourage fellow proponents of the better policing of guns to return to Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson: "The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either." By mistaking anarchy for liberty, the 2nd amendment "absolutists" would convert the Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.

    As Santayana said, "liberty requires peace." If we are always compelled to fight for our freedom, he said, "the whole sky of liberty is clouded over. We are drawn away violently from irresponsible play to a painful study of facts and to the endless labor of coping with probable enemies."

    There is an opportunity here for gun safety campaigners to cast themselves as the real centrists. By singling out the libertarians of the NRA right and the Black Blocs of the radical left, we should warn of the of the self-poisoning of liberal values. In the name of absolute freedom, fanatics on both sides (just Google "Occupy tactics") assault the institutions which make a free society possible.

  • davidp on January 23, 2013 10:45 AM:

    It's a bit odd to insist on an "absolute" interpretation of the Second Amendment but then to ignore the bit about the well-ordered militia. As the Cynic says, it's a very post-modern approach to truth.

  • G.Kerby on January 23, 2013 10:45 AM:

    @Celui: full disclosure, I flunked French.

  • Peter C on January 23, 2013 10:50 AM:

    Gun nuts seem awfully cowardly. Who, exactly, are these wolves who will vote to eat him?

  • Stetson Kennedy on January 23, 2013 11:02 AM:

    It's ironic when 2nd ammendment "absolutists" ignore the "well-regulated" phrasing in their favorite civil right.

  • biggerbox on January 23, 2013 11:14 AM:

    "You can have my family atomics when you pry them from my cold dead radioactive hands!"

    Apparently LaPierre has decided he doesn't need to attract anyone who finds rude, angry and nasty people repellent. Every time he opens his mouth he seems to provide more support for the theory that he is a deep mole working for Michael Moore, secretly working to make the NRA too toxic for reasonable people to support.

  • Rick Massimo on January 23, 2013 11:18 AM:

    I wonder what Wayne LaPierre's opinions are on, say, gay marriage or civil rights.

    After all, without activist judges, democracy is nothing more than nine straight folks and one gay or lesbian person voting on whether gays should have equal rights.

  • g on January 23, 2013 11:18 AM:

    I think it should be just as difficult to get a gun as it is to get an abortion.

    Of course, both are legal.

  • Peter C on January 23, 2013 11:19 AM:

    'And he seems genuinely upset that Obama would try to turn “absolutism into a dirty word.” '

    But 'absolutism' IS a dirty word. It denies the complexity of the world. There are always cases at the margins where an 'absolute' ruling would be unjust or absurd. Are nuclear weapons 'arms' (i.e. "the nuclear arms race")? Should two-year-olds be allowed to carry pistols? An 'absolutist' would have a programmatic answer, but it would be either 'nuanced' (and thus not 'absolute') or dangerously absurd.

  • Josef K on January 23, 2013 11:20 AM:

    But I’m all for honoring his request to be proudly labeled an “absolutist”—someone who believes every principle—yes principle—of our democracy should be subjected to the demand that heavily-armed minorities should have the right to prepare for the violent overthrow of the United States government if they consider it “tyrannical.”

    Frightening image. Anyone care to wager how long these idiot's would hold to their 'absolute principles' if confronted with such a world?

  • davidp on January 23, 2013 11:40 AM:

    Where, I wonder, does all this fearless absolutism leave the constitutional principle of checks and balances?

  • Midland on January 23, 2013 12:13 PM:

    The system LaPierre seems to favor isn't working that well in Somalia or the Congo the last few years.

  • SecularAnimist on January 23, 2013 1:09 PM:

    LaPierre is a bullshit artist. The only thing that he and the NRA are "absolutist" about is maximizing the profits of the gun manufacturing corporations and the only "principle" that motivates them is naked greed.

  • Clambone on January 23, 2013 1:28 PM:

    What always gets me about that "two wolves and a lamb" joke is that it casts the wealthy as the lambs, and the poor and elderly as wolves. I would have thought that a scintilla of self-awareness would prevent a person from telling it.

  • ChrisB on January 23, 2013 6:07 PM:

    Surely as a generation that has seen these kinds of negotiations demonstrated on reality TV programs such as Survivor we should be able to see that in the situation where "two wolves and one lamb [are] voting on, well, who to eat for lunch" the lamb would last at least into the second round, on the basis that the lamb would say to the weaker wolf "Look, eat me now and you'll be up against your equal in the second (and inevitably tied) round - vote for him, and you'll clear out your toughest challenge for the top spot."

    and of course see

  • ChrisB on January 23, 2013 6:22 PM:

    And, carrying that a little further, if you started with 53 lambs and 47 wolves you could use the same arguments to carry it through to the point where you had 53 lambs and one wolf and they could rush him or just hire him as an enforcer against minority lambs.

    Which would, I suppose, be an illustration of how the rich lambs do in practice manage to retain their position of power.

    Still, however it all ends, it's not easy to see how voting actually makes the lamb's chances worse.

  • ChrisB on January 23, 2013 7:09 PM:

    Interestingly, exactly the same wolf/lamb reference comes in to a libertarian/anarchist rant here that wants to discard the constitution entirely, guns amendment included -