After months of dithering in a campaign as aimless as its Kerouacian prologue, Beto O’Rourke had an interesting thought that’s also kind of true: “America is f****d up” for tolerating mass shootings.
He’s not wrong, but the indignant posturing was misplaced. Last week, Beto gave a rather f****d up answer to a question about abortion.
Asked by a young man whether his life had value the day before he was born, Beto had this cheery response:
This is a decision that neither you, nor I, nor the United States government should be making. That’s a decision for the woman to make. We want her to have the best possible access to care and to a medical provider.
Got that, punk? You’re alive because of the good graces of The Woman and The Doctor, inscrutable provider of Medical Care. Be thankful that they didn’t kill you.
Then, this week, Beto had this to say:
The rhetoric that we’ve used — the thoughts and prayers that you just referred to — it has done nothing to stop the epidemic of gun violence to protect our kids, our families, our fellow Americans in public places — at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where 22 were killed, in Sutherland Springs — in a church.
“So yes, this is fucked up,” he added. “If we don’t call it out for what it is, if we’re not able to speak clearly, if we’re not able to act decisively, then we will continue to have this kind of bloodshed in America, and I cannot accept that.”
But where does Beto presume to derive the moral vision to “speak clearly” and “act decisively?” Is it from the same universe where killing a child is “care?”
A shallow dialogue
Politics is always somehow related to morality, since the object of politics is justice: discerning the difference between right and wrong, and then building a social order in accordance with that understanding.
Yet, calls to “do something” fail to register the deeply moral roots of a problem like mass shootings. Why is it that they are always failures of policy, rather than ethics?
Why is it the government’s fault for failing to take guns away from crazy people, and not an ethical failure on the part of the perpetrators, and of society generally, to raise virtuous and healthy citizens?
Beto gives conservatives grief for offering “thoughts and prayers,” but that’s more thoughtful than begging the state to disenfranchise Americans for the sins of a few depraved monsters. Liberals have no interest in talking about deeper causal factors in play, because to entertain them would distract from the more immediate political goal of winning votes by keeping the citizenry in a state of helplessness and fear.
The equally myopic invocation of “mental illness” as a catchall for cultural, moral, and institutional failure is still vague, but at least closer to the mark. Clearly, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with society when getting gunned down at random is a distinct fear on Americans’ minds. Why don’t we talk about that, instead of making guns more difficult to access for millions of people who have done nothing wrong?
But this is a conversation the left is unwilling to have. You mean something seems to have gone wrong with the country that can’t be blamed on Trump, whites, the Founding Fathers, or even more historically remote colonialists?
There is something profoundly infantilizing and degrading about the left’s approach to gun violence. Rather than invite reflection on the deeper causes of this postmodern scourge, which might help lead the way to a more virtuous citizenry capable of self-government, the left is quick to relinquish liberty for superficial solutions.
Democracy without virtue
This is the coward’s approach to democracy. Beto grasps at America’s moral blindness, its false conceits, and its fecklessness in failing to confront deep social ills.
But where does Beto presume, in a universe where killing a baby until the day of birth is permissible — maybe even positively necessary to secure an unlimited orbit for personal choice — to derive the moral authority to condemn mass killing? The left is full of passionate intensity, passion without moral sight.
Beto, who has spent more time than most candidates apologizing for his ancestors, is a particularly fitting vessel for the left’s superficial, deeply hypocritical moral posturing. The left has a morality, but it revolves entirely around the Manichean, primeval struggle between bigotry and wokeness, which is imagined to have proceeded in dialectical stages toward inexorable perfection.
If there is any deeper cause of violence, it is the swirling, primordial energies of hatred and prejudice, which belong, always, to certain Bad People who everyone is supposed to hate.
The moral one-dimensionality of leftism is ill-equipped to handle the deeply moral responsibilities of republican self-government. It sounds like Beto is encouraging meditation on virtue, when really he’s suggesting prefab policy fixes that require the least inconvenience to the people, while leaving safely intact the assumption that America has progressed, morally and culturally, over the past several decades.
Without a deeper moral vision, we end up with the inarticulate, impotent hand-wringing of, “Do something!” We end up with citizens begging to be disenfranchised, rather than seeking to investigate, and reform, what has gone wrong with society.
Politics without moral vision aims not at justice, but its opposite. A people without virtue descend sooner or later into despair, and from there, into tyranny — first of the soul, and then of governments.
The left’s gun policy has the textbook ingredients of tyranny: passion without moral vision to correct it, it seeks to degrade, rather than ennoble, enslave rather than liberate.
A retreat from justice
Beto thinks it’s not anyone’s business to weigh in on abortion except mother and “doctor” (really the State). Indeed, why should people bother with petty trifles like the most important moral questions concerning life and death, when a group of nine people in black robes decided them for all time 40 years ago?
The moral libertarianism of the left, which has slowly but surely become the id of the time, has precipitated a retreat from justice, making virtuous, responsible government effectively impossible. The morally libertarian mentality of the left could be summarized in the phrase, “Don’t like abortion? Then don’t get one.”
Indeed. Don’t like murder? Then don’t kill people. So simple! If only we could get murderers to see reason on this issue.
Decades of this indifferent, lazy mentality have eroded the role of morality in politics. In 2019, politics is no longer about the deepest questions of justice, which are imagined to have long been decided, but making right the great wrong of History, where all humankind’s sins are said to lie. As a corollary, citizens have retreated from their neighbors and from the rigors of self- government and political community.
How to explain the new, disturbing regularity — even banality — of an act so profoundly childish and evil as killing random strangers out of frustration with life? The causes are complex and could take up numberless op-ed pages.
But it’s not the kind of thing that people used to fear. The evil of mass shooters is a reflection of the soul of this historical place, in this historical time.
Cliche as it may sound, their evil is a mirror image of the society that produced them. The common trait of all mass shooters is profound loneliness coupled with pathological narcissism, a belief that one’s ego is the whole world and that one’s problems are always the fault of everyone but oneself.
Can there be no connection between Beto’s deeply selfish, morally irresponsible response to the young man’s question on abortion, and the callous and evil mentality of mass shooters?
Beto is half-right. If we’re not able to speak clearly about what has gone wrong in this country, then the violence will never stop. With shallow policy bromides like his controlling the dialogue, though, it will never happen.