Political Animal


March 25, 2013 2:55 PM U-G-L-Y You Ain’t Got No Alibi!

By Ed Kilgore

I’m at my father’s house right now, and as always, he has MSNBC on the tube. In a report on the congressional wrangling over gun legislation, there was a clip of Wayne Lapierre raving at Michael Bloomberg at some podium or another, and I wondered, not for the first time, why the National Rifle Association puts this man out there in public view day in and day out as its face and voice.

Maybe I’m missing something, and Lapierre is regarded in key circles as a mesmerizing speaker or a rhetorical wizard. He strikes me, and clearly strikes a lot of people, as a near-parody of gun-nut stereotypes: an angry old reactionary white guy with an unpleasant stage presence who really loves him some conspiracy theories. Perhaps he is representative of his membership, but that shouldn’t matter: why not get someone unrepresentative of his membership, who is a bit more persuasive, or at least less repellent? Say what you want about Lapierre’s best-known predecessor in this role, Charlton Heston, but the guy knew how to perform before cameras, and besides, half the country looked at him and saw Moses.

Is it an ego thing, like Newt Gingrich looking at himself in the mirror (or in one of his wives’ worshipful eyes) and seeing Winston Churchill while everybody else sees this pudgy former national pariah? I dunno. I’d like to think that if, God forbid, I was in charge of a wealthy and powerful organization like the NRA I’d have the presence of mind to find somebody other than me to get out there and represent all those dues-payers in the public arena. But this happens a lot in politics. Remember Hillary Clinton’s habit in 2008 of putting strategist/pollster Mark Penn, one of the least popular people in Democratic politics and not exactly Hollywood-esque in his media presence, out there to represent her campaign over and over again? Never did figure that out.

Maybe “spokespeole” like Lapierre are supposed to create fear and loathing in his organization’s enemies, and hence some psychological advantage. But for my money, he’s just about the best thing gun control advocates have going for them other than reason and morality.

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.


  • Joe Friday on March 25, 2013 3:13 PM:

    Yet another performance by Lapierre where he looked like a madman and sounded like a lunatic. You gotta be pretty damned Looney Toons to make a multi-billionaire like Bloomberg look sympathetic.

  • Midwest reader on March 25, 2013 3:20 PM:

    His only role is to keep the base sufficiently agitated to insure that they continue to send money and write letters to their congress person. He has no role to play in persuading people who favor any form of gun control. This seems to me to be one of the mistakes people who are not deep movement conservatives make. They think that the right wingers actually want to make persuasive arguments. Problem is that in order to persuade you have to acknowledge that the other guy has at least identified a legitimate problem. But now--see Fromm, et al.--to do so means exile to the land of the RINOs. So the best way to survive on the right at this point is to always move further the the right.

  • martin on March 25, 2013 3:21 PM:

    There's only one reason LaPierre has the job he has -- he brings in the big bucks. As long as looking and acting like a loon brings in the cash, the man has job security.

  • schtick on March 25, 2013 3:29 PM:

    If the gun manufacturers are supporting him and the NRA, they might want to remember what happened to the tobacco companies. They seem to be painting themselves into that same corner.

  • Josef K on March 25, 2013 3:30 PM:

    why not get someone unrepresentative of his membership, who is a bit more persuasive, or at least less repellent?

    I'll put it down to an nearly impenetrable feedback loop within the NRA upper eschelons. LaPierre and his cohort came to power in the 1990s, when the OK City bombing and the rising 'militia movement' put the gun crowd on a kind of war-footing it never really got off of (even though the rest of the country eventually did and turned its attention outwards after 9/11). I suppose the fact the world didn't end in 2000 or 2012 helped calm alot of societal fears, and in a real sense the country moved beyond the NRA's frankly narrowed obsession.

    I'm not familiar enough with the internal workings of the NRA to know or understand its executive selection process; I suspect LaPierre is drawing enough influence and donations from gun manufacturers to keep himself and his preferred people in place, and thereby keep the NRA from moving onto more rational ground on the issue involved.

    In short, I'd chalk it up to a generational issue, with LaPierre and company not fully realizing - or simply ignoring - how the world has moved past them. Its rather sad, but then not terribly surprising given the circumstances. Besides which, if you've ever seen the NRA's headquarters in Virginia, you'd be forgiven for thinking its one-part postmodern cathedral, and one-part doomsday bunker; a near-perfect reflection of LaPierre's professed worldview.

  • T2 on March 25, 2013 3:32 PM:

    Remember, LaPierre represents GUN MANUFACTURERS. His purpose is to scare people into buying guns, and scare the rest of us from opposing it. You may call him a loon, but check out the Senate firearm proposal.....the one without any weapons bans or magazine limits. He produces results.

  • Peter C on March 25, 2013 3:39 PM:

    I agree with Rachel Maddow; LaPierre is meant to draw attention away from the gun manufacturers. If he gets your attention by his rants, that's OK. If he gets your attention by being ugly, that OK too. His job is to make you think of him and NOT the gun manufacturers.

  • Midwest reader on March 25, 2013 3:41 PM:

    Unless things have changed in recent years, while the NRA has a fairly large membership, I believe only life members vote for officers. Also, LaPierre is not elected, he is the executive director, again, if I am not mistaken, which means he is "hired" by the board to run the show as the chief administrator. So you really have to look at who is on the board to determine how the organization selects its real leadership--LaPierre--and how it executes its programs. Charlton Heston, and his current successor--whatever his name is--as President, exercised relatively little power, but the are the ones intended to give a more human face to the organization.

  • John on March 25, 2013 4:39 PM:

    Is it an ego thing, like Newt Gingrich looking at himself in the mirror (or in one of his wivesí worshipful eyes) and seeing Winston Churchill while everybody else sees this pudgy former national pariah?

    To be fair to Gingrich, British people in the 1930s saw Churchill as a pudgy national pariah who was hopelessly out of touch and a man of the past.

  • c u n d gulag on March 25, 2013 4:41 PM:

    Sometimes, you have to have someone like, oh, say Casey Stengel, who was once great at his job, to be the buffoon-like face of a floundering franchise, like the the NY Mets, and LaPierre with the NRA.

    Say what you will, the man's effective, for whatever reason.
    Casey sold a sh*tload of tickets that otherwise would have been empty.

    And yes, he's and evil, stupid, loon.
    But, he's THEIR evil, stupid, loon.

  • Tom Dibble on March 25, 2013 4:45 PM:

    Peter C - I agree as well. I think Rachel's case is pretty solid here: The NRA, and by extension LaPierre, exist as a distraction, a fall guy, from the weaponry lobby. Very few people (although there are some who love him and cheer when he goes off on some tirade) are anything but repulsed by him and his ideas. BUT, changing hearts and minds isn't the goal of the NRA.

    The game is this:

    1. Stoke the coals of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Make people afraid; very afraid. People make irrational decisions when they are scared. People ignore science and statistics and buy guns to "defend themselves" when they are scared. People must be scared. That is the only way for the NRA funders to continue making money.

    2. Give a public face by which those insane fear-stoking claims can be made which is wholly separated from the public face of those who profit from it. The NRA claims it is a gun safety and training organization first and foremost, and makes huge membership claims (but aren't so loud about how much of their funding actually comes from gun and ammo manufacturers and sellers...)

    3. Let rational people hate LaPierre. Let them hate the NRA, even. The fear will still get through, because it works at a far more primal level than indignancy and reason.

    LaPierre is a rodeo clown, doing his show to keep his real master from getting gored by the rightly riled up bull of public opinion.

  • Craig on March 25, 2013 5:04 PM:

    Welcome home Ed.

    I've always wondered the same thing about so many 'spokespeople' from the right.

    Is there any guy alive who thinks that Ann Coulter is attractive?

    Is there any person alive who looks at Gary Bauer and thinks to themself - 'hey i'd like to follow that guy'?

    Makes no sense to me...

  • joanneinDenver on March 25, 2013 5:59 PM:

    The assault weapons ban is dead in the water in Washington. Sales for guns and ammunition are sky high, as are profits for gun manufacturers. Membership in the NRA has increased dramatically since New Town. Obama's numbers are down; he couldn't deliver on gun control.

    All of this happened on Lapierre's watch. What is it about success that you don't understand?

  • thoughtbasket on March 25, 2013 7:42 PM:

    And he looks like the villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Seriously, he does!


  • Josef K on March 25, 2013 8:26 PM:

    From Craig at 5:04 PM:

    Welcome home Ed.

    I've always wondered the same thing about so many 'spokespeople' from the right.

    Is there any guy alive who thinks that Ann Coulter is attractive?

    Amid certain low standards, she is. The fact she can speak in complete sentences makes her a bit of anthropological oddity, hence her having the same kind of following as a condemned mass murderer or a freakshow performer. Michele Malkin falls into the same category.

    Lenin, Trotsky, and most of the leadership of the National Socialist party in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s had the same trouble. Radicalized citizens will listen to anyone who sounds like they've got a plan, can provide a ready explanation/cause/scapegoat, and offers a neat solution to all the worlds ills. Bauer, Robertson, Keyes, even Bachmann can rally the masses if their narratives are simpleminded enough.

    Makes no sense to me...

    Most things humans do makes no sense when viewed from a distance. Why do you think the "found footage" genre of movies is getting so popular?

  • Anonymous on March 26, 2013 12:00 AM:

    This is what I don't understand. 2014 is shaping up to be 2010 all over again.
    Obama has the White House, but the Democrats do not have any plan to win in the states in 2014.

    The NRA is the Teaparty of 2014. Gun control is the Obama care of 2014.
    The republicans are doing EXACTLY what they did in 2010 - galvanize their base and then run with the issue and ride the vote into power in the individual states.

    It doesn't matter what Anne Coulter looks like or if Lapierre is spewing crap, what matters in politics is winning. Winning is the only thing because that is how you get power. The Republicans are gearing up to win the Senate in 2014 and expand their control in the states. What is the Democratic goal? What is the Democratic strategy for reaching that goal? Anybody??

  • Roddy McCorley on March 26, 2013 2:00 AM:

    Let us not overlook the tendency on that side of the political spectrum to embrace that with our side of the political spectrum finds questionable or objectionable. If liberals don't like it, then it MUST be a good thing. So if we look at LaPierre and see an unhinged lunatic, then he MUST really be a swell guy , a visionary, and as statesman.

  • Chayes on March 26, 2013 10:53 AM:

    Why do we not simply shun him? It is a time honored tactic that religious zealots certainly understand. Just stop listening to him, stop talking to him, stop watching TV shows on which he appears. Stop talking about him. He is anathema. Shun him.