There's been some commentary in the media about the extra sadness and irony of this latest horrific school shooting coming during the Christmas season, but according to the book of Matthew in the Christian Bible, the first Christmas was one of intense sadness and pain due to unthinkable violence, as well. According to this account, King Herod heard about the birth of a baby prophesied to be "a leader who will shepherd my people Israel," and he immediately saw this as a potential threat to his family's, and Rome's, power. Herod ordered the killing of all male children under the age of two years old. Matthew then refers back to a verse from the prophet Jeremiah:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted
because they were no more.
All Americans with a living heart today are weeping for our children, sobbing and lamenting those beautiful children and their teachers slaughtered in Sandy Hook on Friday. Our little ones are being killed in front of our eyes: why aren't we doing something to stop it? My weeping is turning into anger, but not only at the NRA and the gun industry (which are as inextricably locked together as the machinery of one of their automatic gun killing machines) and the politicians who worship at their altar, but at Democrats too gutless to lift a finger to try and end the madness.
The ironic thing is that the politics of the gun issue is actually a plus for Democrats willing to take this on. When Bill Clinton pushed through the Brady Bill and the ban on assault rifles in his first term, his vote among rural and small town voters in 1996 actually went up in comparison to 1992. In fact, with the NRA in all-out attack mode and running against a rural state, small town icon Bob Dole, Bill Clinton did better among rural and small town voters than any Democratic candidate since LBJ in the '64 landslide, and far better than all the Democratic presidential candidates who haven't mentioned a peep about gun control since.And with the 52 plus majority Obama has gotten twice being overwhelmingly urban/suburban, women and people of color, the gun control issue just doesn't have the capacity to shave much from a Democratic majority at the national level.
There are a couple of reasons Democrats are so terrified of this issue, and both of them are based far more on fear than fact. One is that the 1994 tide that swept the Democrats out of power after being in control of the House for 40 years did include a lot of Democrats from the South, where the gun issue mattered a lot. But those seats are mostly not coming back anyway, and it is clear that based on the 2006/8 House majorities that we can win a majority in the House, as we can in presidential elections, by winning big in the parts of the country where guns are not only not a negative, but can help us win votes.
The other reason that Democrats turned chicken on guns is that Gore lost his home state of Tennessee, as well as some other Southern and border states won easily by Clinton, and guns were blamed for the loss. Obama has proved you can win the electoral college quite easily without winning those states. But beyond that, Democrats should stop being wimps for another reason, which is that Gore (and Kerry and Obama) have never contested the issue the way Clinton very successfully did. All of those latter candidates let the NRA define them on the gun issue in rural areas, they never presented a counter-argument because they just wanted to avoid the issue. They thought that if they just never talked about the issue or did anything about it, it would just go away. The NRA very successfully just stepped into the void, and sold rural voters on the idea that Democrats wanted to take all their guns away. Clinton, by contrast, talked a lot about the gun issue, addressed it directly. He told rural and small town folks that he thought they had a right to their hunting rifles, but that military assault weapons had no place in civilian American life.
But this isn't just about politics and this isn't just about guns. I am, like Rachel, lamenting today not just because 6- and 7-year-olds are getting killed by assault weapons in one school, but because too many are dying from being abused in their homes, and too many are hungry, and too many lack decent health care or housing. The thing that breaks your heart is these are such eminently solvable problems if we only had politicians with the guts and good human values to solve them.
The most stunning thing is this: almost all of the politicians who refuse to do the common sense things to solve these problems, to do the most basic things any decent nation should do to take care of its children, claim to worship the God that Rachel was lamenting to. But they either don't read or refuse to adhere to their own Bible. On Friday morning, a news item came out about a speech VA Attorney General and Governor's candidate Ken Cuccinelli made where he said that:
"I'm probably not the guy most Catholic bishops care to see anymore because I zero-in on them every time I spot them in the room and they get sort of the three-minute version of the church piece of this. They've helped create a culture of dependency on government, not God."
Now beyond the fact that Catholics and other churches who advocate for helping the poor do a lot of charity (they just know that society needs to play a role, as well, since they can't possibly meet the need), you have here the same far right philosophy that says anytime government helps the poor, it makes people dependent and lazy. There is no logic or factual data to back this up, as well over 90 percent of public money going to aid poor people goes to children, seniors and those with severe disabilities. But more importantly, to Cuccinelli's soul if nothing else, Cuccinelli completely ignores his own faith tradition. The man who Cuccinelli claims as his divine savior, Jesus of Nazareth, is quoted in 128 different verses in 4 brief gospels telling people they should be helping the poor. He never once expresses worry that by doing so, the poor will become lazy or dependent. And Jesus was part of a long tradition of Jewish prophets who made clear that they were condemning society as a whole for its treatment of the poor. Isaiah, who Christians think of as the ultimate prophet predicting Jesus' coming, said this:
Woe to the legislators of infamous laws,
to those who issue tyrannical decrees,
who refuse justice to the unfortunate
and cheat the poor among my people of their rights.
Woe to the legislators of infamous laws, indeed. And, I might add, woe to those too gutless to pass laws that do good and protect our children. Our government is not as bad as Herod in ordering the killing of babies, but if it leaves them unprotected against those who would do them harm, that is terrible, too.
In this holiday season of hope and generosity, with this latest of terrible tragedies once again reminding us of how much our legislators have failed us, let's resolve once more to have a government that protects and nurtures our children rather than leaving them exposed to evil.