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.”
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