History is not a cartoon

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Confederate statues are under fire.  Cultural warriors are demanding their removal.  The more aggressive activists are taking matters into their own hands.  What’s feeding this frenzy?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for putting a leash on radical protesters vandalizing public property.  But if statues in the public square send the wrong message, haven’t these modern-day de-Stalinists got a point?

Bad Southern generals fought for slavery.  Noble Northern generals fought for freedom.  What could be more straightforward?   The right thing to do is honor the Union fighters and cast aside Confederate tributes – right?

Not so fast.  History is a bit more complicated than an episode of The Lone Ranger.  The guys in blue were no saints.  And the guys in gray weren’t so clearly the villains they’ve been made out to be.

Let’s start with General Ulysses S. Grant.  The leader of the Union forces is credited with saving our great nation.  Okay, but he also ordered the expulsion of Jews from territory conquered by the Union Army.  Grant’s “General Order #11” was a vile racist edict that could have served as a template for Nazi policy in Europe a century later.

Grant later became our 18th President.  His White House tenure is considered one of the most corrupt and ineffective in history.

Other Union leaders offered no greater portraits of public rectitude. In their literally scorched earth march through the South, General Sherman and his men intentionally terrorized civilians with actions clearly violating rules of war prevailing at the time.  These same military leaders then carried out brutal campaigns against Native American populations.

In contrast, the Confederate army was more constrained.  General Lee was a principled man, who insisted that civilian populations and property be spared wherever possible.  As evidenced by his writings, he also gave no quarter to Grant’s anti-Semitic sensibilities.

But Lee chose the wrong, losing side of the war.  For what was from his perspective an honorable decision, he is vilified.  Having graduated near the top of his class at West Point, he resigned his U.S. Army commission to stand with his native State of Virginia when it seceded from the Union.

Under today’s litmus test of identity politics, this transgression is irredeemable.  So Lee’s statues are coming down while Grant’s image still adorns our $50 bill.

When complicated men are reduced to caricatures, the debate is no longer about history.  Or even values.  Commemorations become a flag to be captured.  Politics decides what gets a place on the mantle.

Popular this year?  Get a statue.  Next year?  Only time will tell.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Identity Politics, Race Relations

Don’t like reality? Just make up a new one!

Read this post now on The Daily Caller!

http://dailycaller.com/2017/07/24/dont-like-reality-just-make-up-a-new-one/

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When OJ Simpson was granted parole in Nevada last week, I was reminded that reality is a malleable construct in politics. Whether OJ really killed his wife and her companion in L.A. back in 1994 didn’t concern people fed up with a justice system sticking it to black America. Back then, protesters celebrated his acquittal. Many really believed he was innocent.

A result of strained race relations in Los Angeles? To be sure. An anomaly for the professional protester class? Hardly.

Consider the debunked cases of rape by the Duke lacrosse team in 2006 and then the University of Virginia Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in 2014. Proponents of the campus rape “epidemic” had no trouble presuming the guilt of the accused, marching in the streets and venting their rage across social media. It fit neatly into their narrative of white men abusing their privileged status.

Now the latest example of pre-fabricated protected class outrage comes courtesy of Islamist agitators and their apologists in the “international community”.

Last week the Israeli government, reacting to the July 14 murder of two police officers keeping the peace over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, installed metal detectors to screen entrants to the holy site.

A reasonable measure to keep weapons out of a sensitive place of worship? Not according to a Palestinian leadership which incites, emboldens, and rewards acts of terror. On Sunday Palestinian Authority President Abbas reiterated his objections:

“We will not allow the electronic gates to continue [to be placed] there,” he told a convention in Ramallah. “Sovereignty is our full right, and we need to supervise Al-Aksa and stand guard at its gates.”

Violent protests have begun, and international condemnation is sure to follow.

To Abbas, the scandal is not that his constituents gunned down police officers in cold blood. It’s not that the Palestinian Authority continues to use U.S. tax dollars to compensate the families of jailed or slain Palestinian attackers. It’s not that Palestinian media and educational curricula proselytize Jew-hatred in every corner of Palestinian society.

No, the injustice of the magnometers is the challenge to Islamic supremacy. Seizing on an ordinary and customary security device, Arab and Muslim leaders have found another convenient hook to hang their anti-Israel propaganda. It makes no difference that such devices are used at the Vatican, during the Hajj in Mecca, and of course, for entrance to the Western Wall plaza below the Temple Mount. (I’ve been screened every time I’ve entered Judaism’s holiest site.)

Why can’t the Arab world be fair-minded and rational about the whole affair? If people can endure metal detectors at airports and shopping malls, why not at a holy site? I’m afraid it has little to do with sensible policy, and everything to with political power.

Rationalizations for violence, abdication of due process, and moral double-standards obscure a wholesale lack of self-criticism. It’s easier for the Arabs to blame Israel than it is to assess their own political and cultural shortcomings. Likewise, progressive activists blame law enforcement, firearms, the religious right, and “patriarchal society” for the ills of American society. Few acknowledge fault in the decline of marriage, lack of accountability in the welfare state, or the glorification of violence in popular culture.

Across the battle lines for taxpayer dollars, regulatory control, and levers of multilateral institutions, the means always seem to justify the ends, facts be damned. It’s always been about power, not truth.

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Filed under Justice, Middle East, Terrorism

You’ve got to pick a side

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Note:  Since I originally posted, this commentary has been published on The Daily Caller.  See http://dailycaller.com/2016/05/30/youve-got-to-pick-a-side/

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As I’ve told my son’s little league squad, you win as a team and you lose as a team.  If your pitcher is missing the strike zone, you don’t take your bat and ball and go home.  That will not get you to the championship.

And yet that is what a lot of conservatives are trying to do these days.

Donald Trump is now the Republican pitcher.  He is the GOP standard bearer.  Whether or not, in Paul Ryan’s words, he lives up to our standards.

It is true that Trump breaks with conservative orthodoxy on a number of issues. He embraces protectionism on trade. He refuses to address entitlement reform.  He does not say mean things about Planned Parenthood.

He also rejects traditional GOP foreign policy tenets even as he advocates for renewed strength abroad.  He disavows the war in Iraq and other neoconservative projects to implant Western democracy in places that have never known it.  He questions the relevance and viability of NATO.  He second-guesses strategic aid to countries that refuse to foot the bill.

Maybe some of Trump’s loose policy pronouncements are ill informed or shortsighted.  If so, and if he makes it to the White House, maybe he will change course.  It would not be the first time he has abandoned positions.  In fact, it is Trump’s lack of adherence to principle (not to mention a mixed history of supporting Democrats and their agenda) that has driven so many of the GOP establishment and pundit class to pledge allegiance to #NeverTrump.

Unwavering conservative principle girded the Ted Cruz campaign.  Consider where that got him.

Some of the fiercest rivals and critics of Donald Trump have been quickest to reverse course.  Last year they took turns deriding Trump as a “narcissist egomaniac” (Bobby Jindal), “like being shot” (Lindsay Graham), and as a “barking carnival act” and “cancer” (Rick Perry).  Now each has climbed aboard the Trump train.

For this, some members of the conservative punditocracy label them pathetic traitors.

What is their alternative plan?  William Kristol pines on about drafting a true conservative third party candidate.  Peter Wehner blithely promises to vote for someone else or abstain.

Mitt Romney and the Bush brothers literally commit to stay home, refusing to pay tribute to the presumptive nominee by attending the nominating convention in Cleveland.

This crowd needs to wise up.  Isn’t anything other than an embrace of Trump de facto a vote for Clinton?

Exactly.  And some implacable critics like Robert Kagan are openly planning to join the other team.

Seriously?  How can anyone who opposes the heavy-handed, growth-depressing, world-destabilizing policies of the Obama era do anything other than work to block a third Obama term with Clinton at the helm?

Many Republicans have personal animus for Clinton.  They detest the way she holds herself above the law and makes blatantly false statements to avoid accountability.  They resent the way her ruthless quest for power and wealth has trampled on helpless civilians, from the women her husband abused to the families of the Benghazi terror victims. They cringe at the sound of her voice.

But Clinton could be the most honest, gracious, and likeable public figure, and she would still usher in another span of liberal governance that undermines liberty, squelches growth, and damages American global interests.

At the end of the day, I think that conservative hold-outs simply cannot countenance the idea of a crass person like Donald Trump headlining the party of the conservatives.  He does not fit their ideals. He does not fit the model. They do not want to settle until they meet Mr. Right.

George Will counsels conservatives to fight Trump in the general election.  Then, after a single Clinton term, the voters will see the error of their ways and come around to a principled conservative that meets Will’s standards.

How bad do things need to get before Will and others recognize that change is needed now?

Trump wasn’t my first choice either. I got over it.  The benefits of a Trump presidency far outweigh the potential flaws.  On the critical issues of Supreme Court nominations, tax and regulatory policy, healthcare reform, and homeland security, Trump is squarely better for conservatives than Clinton could ever be.

Points where I strongly disagree with Trump – trade policy and entitlement reform come to mind – are tough pills to swallow.  But again, I can’t see a Clinton White House doing any better.

Electing Trump will undoubtedly ruffle feathers in the office of diplomatic protocol.  We will see behavior and comments that we would never expect from a commander-in-chief.

Well okay.  But like I said, Trump’s on the mound now.  And I want to go to the World Series.

 

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Filed under Electoral Politics, Presidential Campaign

Let the people decide

taxi

In case you missed it this week, the New York Times reports that “an Uber driver admitted his involvement in a Saturday night shooting rampage” in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  NBC News likewise reports on the “eight people shot by a rampaging Uber driver”.

The press did get around to sharing other details about the deranged shooter Jason Dalton, including that he is a married father of two, was living in an ordinary neighborhood, and had no prior criminal record.

But I could not escape the media fascination with Dalton’s job, including follow-up pieces about rides given before and after the shootings and reactions from Uber officials.

Randomly perusing the links of the Gun Violence Archive, I could find no such examples of stories that led with the shooter’s chosen profession.  Instead the narratives mostly covered the incident itself, the police response, and the condition of victims.

The unstated implication is that Uber has a sinister side-effect.  Never mind that Uber has consistent real-time visibility into its drivers’ whereabouts.  Never mind that it can instantly deactivate the Uber app of any driver it suspects of wrong-doing.  Never mind that supposedly safe regular taxi drivers routinely fail Uber background checks.

I suspect Uber is suspect for something other than driver violence.  The ubiquitous ride-sharing service has become synonymous with the unregulated sharing economy.  And nothing threatens the liberal establishment more than a tool which bypasses the heavy hand of government.

For years passengers suffered from the regulated taxi monopoly.  During my pre-Uber decade in San Francisco, calling a cab was a roll of the dice.  When one did show up, the condition of the vehicle — not to mention the attitude of the driver — was shoddy at best.

Today, thanks to Uber and other ride-sharing services, I know where my ride is, when it will arrive, and who will be driving.  I can rate the driver’s performance.  After dozens of rides, I’ve rarely been disappointed.  What’s not to like?

Of course, it’s not a happy day for the taxi industry and the politicians it bankrolls at City Hall.   Desperate to preserve their turf, the incumbents are lashing out with unsubstantiated accusations that its more nimble rivals are unsafe.

There is no compelling evidence that riding in an Uber is any less safe than riding in a taxi.  And the people are voting with their apps.  Taxi rides and revenues are plummeting as consumers turn to more affordable and agreeable ride-sharing alternatives.

It’s all about consumer choice.  When you let the people decide, good things happen.  When you protect a special interest, there’s no free lunch.  Someone else is paying the price.

Productivity — which is another way of saying better products at a lower cost — cannot be compelled by government fiat.  The only reason poor value survives in an otherwise free market is restraint on more capable alternatives.

Consider the twin examples of our woeful Veterans Administration healthcare system and our generally dismal public education cabal.  Does anyone seriously doubt that these two dinosaurs would crumble if exposed to legitimate competition for patients and students, respectively?  Instead, protected by entrenched government employee unions, they continue to devour taxpayer resources without any accountability for their shortcomings.

Liberal politicians think that more aggressive taxes and regulations can unlock excessive gains of business to create a more equitable allocation of wealth.  But as every socialist experiment from Soviet Russia to modern-day Venezuela has shown, penalizing free enterprise destroys wealth, making everyone more equally poor.

Trial lawyers and labor union advocates want to rein in the sharing economy.  The only thing they’ll be preserving is one-size-fits-all lousy service.

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Filed under Economic Policy, Government Regulation

Winners capture minds and hearts

imagesA funny thing happened last month while the media obsessed over presidential primary horse races:  President Obama’s approval ratings ticked up.  The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls now shows virtual parity between people who approve of the president’s overall performance and those who don’t.  This after over a year of approval deficits ranging from 5% to 8%.

As far as I can tell, nothing good has happened in 2016 to justify Americans raising their appreciation for our commander-in-chief.  To the contrary, economic and foreign policy troubles continue to weigh on the minds of voters.  By margins of 2-1, they continue to see things in our country “off on the wrong track”.

So what gives?  Why might people be softening their views of the president even as the race heats up to take his job?

On the left, the president’s approval ratings have remained consistently high, just as they remain consistently low on the right.  What’s changed is the view of independent voters.  The primary campaign must be having an impact on them.

Notwithstanding Ted Cruz’s theory about the missing conservative voter, it’s fairly well-established that these independent votes swing elections.  And while it doesn’t determine outcomes itself, the approval rating of the incumbent president is a fairly good indicator of his party’s chances in the election that follows.

Herein lies the quandary for true believers.  Independent voters make the difference, and yet they don’t line up neatly with the ideology of either “movement conservatives” or the “progressive left”.

Donald Trump generates mass appeal because he speaks to the anxieties and aspirations of people who resent the government’s failures — not those who find salvation in lower marginal tax rates.  Hillary Clinton does throw a few leftist barbs at Bernie Sanders for his more measured views of gun control.  By and large, though, while Sanders calls for a revolution, Clinton wraps herself in virtues of the status quo.

So as partisans descend into petty attacks and ideological purity tests, the president’s even-keeled demeanor begins to resonate again with the mushy middle.

The people do want change.  Most of us just won’t run off a cliff with a pied piper who divides us into camps of us and them.  Especially if too many of us find ourselves in the camp of “them”.

Assuming she dodges the criminal investigations surrounding her mishandling of classified information while serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton still has a good chance to win both the Democratic primary and the general election.  Yes, people may find her untrustworthy and uninspiring, but at the end of the day she projects an image of stability that will ultimately win out over rabble rousing by the likes of Sanders on the left, Cruz on the right, and Trump in the populist middle.

You can see the outlines of Clinton’s stay-the-course strategy taking foot in her stump speeches and among her media advocates.  Supporters tout the perceived successes of the Obama administration:  ending wars, disarming Iran, increasing health care coverage, reining in Wall Street.

For a challenger to knock Clinton off her game, it will take more than piling on her negatives.  These are too easily dismissed as rants of the Fox News-talk radio industrial complex — partisan and self-serving, rather than thoughtful and substantive.

Here is where I take issue with the Trump phenomenon and ill-considered comparisons to the campaigns of Ronald Reagan.

Like Trump, President Reagan connected with the middle class.  He was an iconoclastic entertainer who mastered the media channels of his generation.

Unlike Trump, however, Reagan disarmed his adversaries and appealed to the better natures of us all.  More important, he upended the status quo by touching the minds as well as the hearts of the people.

To dislodge the liberal establishment from the levers of power in Washington, a conservative candidate must use more than sloganeering.  He or she must dismantle the fallacies of Obama era success by picking them off one by one with an unapologetic but rational and good humored argument.

Don’t give us platitudes.  Explain the reasons in a way everyone can understand.

Why does disengagement in the Middle East make us less safe at home?  Why does government interference undermine our prosperity?  Our health care?  Our ability to make ends meet?  Spell it out in plain English and don’t make us turn against our neighbors to pursue a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.

For this reason I applaud Rich Lowry for engineering National Review’s online symposium Conservatives against Trump.  To its credit, NRO assembled a diverse collection of voices, ranging from talk-radio mavericks (Glenn Beck), to neoconservative defenders of the establishment (William Kristol), to heroes of the tea party grassroots (Erick Erickson).  Each took a measured and thoughtful shot at the reality-show blowhard — his lack of principle, his authoritarian impulses, his betrayal of conservative norms.  Anyone taking the time to absorb this multifaceted critique would see virtue in backing another horse.

But pundits do not turn elections.  The candidates themselves must embrace a rational and uplifting message to match their bouts of righteous indignation.  This is why I was rooting for Carly Fiorina early on, but now her time has passed.  Of the candidates with a realistic pathway to the nomination, Marco Rubio is the only one who fits the bill.  If Republicans hope to win back the White House, they better fall in line.

 

 

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Filed under Electoral Politics, Presidential Campaign

Time to step it up

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I would like to be debating policy issues that are close to my heart, like reforming the tax system, increasing competition in education, and yes, addressing claims of human-induced climate change.  Unfortunately, the recent events in Paris have reshuffled my sense of priorities.  When someone is trying to kill you, it gets your attention.

That is, of course, unless you are President Obama.  Like the hysterical protesters on college campuses from coast to coast, our professor-in-chief senses danger in the principles and practices of our free society, but he remains nonchalant about the clear and present threats of Islamic terror.  Because the president is afraid of offending Muslims who disavow violence, he continues to drone on about Islam-inspired violence being unrelated to Islam.  Democratic officials and candidates likewise go to great politically correct pains to avoid using the words “Islam” and “terror” in the same sentence.

It is awkward enough to hear an American political leader offering opinions about the meaning of a religion to which he claims no personal connection.  But even if President Obama were an authority on Islamic teachings, the alleged distortion of Islam by terrorists is besides the point.  Of course there are millions of Muslims who reject terrorism and despise ISIS and who can justify their opposition with bona fide Islamic principles.  Many are oriented to Western liberties and are counted among our most loyal citizens.

But millions more are absolutely, positively not aligned with the American way of thinking.  They reject our liberal society as a wellspring of corruption.  And they base their attitudes, like it or not, on the religion and culture of Islamic societies.  For this reason, Obama warned us of exercising our constitutional (dare I say, God-given?) rights to freely criticize Islam and its sacred prohibitions.  Why else but for fear that practitioners of Islam would not tolerate our free speech and would be provoked into acts of violence?

Witness Secretary of State Kerry’s recent gaffe acknowledging justification — er, rationale — for the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  The left will bend over backwards to accommodate the illiberal mentality of our Islamist enemies, but it will take Americans to task for defending our fundamental liberties.  All one has to do is look at the rising tide of commentators linking last week’s attack at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs to opponents of abortion.  No, it was not an unrelated “violent extremist” at fault for the senseless murders.  It was the “inflammatory rhetoric” of the pro-life Republicans that set events in motion.

Why does it matter that we define our enemies by the Islamist ideology which motivates them?  It is not to appeal to base prejudices among our citizenry.  It is not to create a clash between Muslims and the West.   To the contrary, as Gov. Chris Christie explained last week to the Council on Foreign Relations, “if you say that you’re going to war with radical Islamic terrorism, then by definition you’re not going to war with the rest of Islam… Confusion is only created by the use of euphemisms.”

We must define the enemy correctly to enable a debate about the strategy most likely to succeed in bringing this global menace to its knees.

Like Churchill who foresaw the perils of appeasing Hitler, we must be willing to take our enemies at their word.  When they say they want to kill us, they mean it.  And like Hollywood’s nefarious Terminator, ISIS can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with.  It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Faced with such an enemy in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the Allies of World War II waged an unrelenting battle on multiple fronts.  We must do the same, using strategies and technologies which are suited for our generation.

While that does not mean we can defeat the enemy with military might alone, air strikes and infantry are essential for success.  We must unhinge rules of engagement that limit the force and breadth of our firepower.  Likewise, we must crush the spirit of ISIS with propaganda that humiliates them.  For every tweet glorifying terror, we need to respond 100-fold with words and images that expose the emptiness of jihadist rhetoric, shining a light on the daily misery and deprivation experienced by the foot soldiers of ISIS.

There are complexities to the multi-pronged conflict in Syria.  The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.  But we must not let the complications of future governance prevent us from acting decisively today.  Anything else is better than ISIS.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, International, Terrorism

Common sense defense

Carson Black conservatives get under the skin of most liberal commentators, and Ben Carson’s steady rise in the presidential polls have been driving the pundits outright batty.  Detractors have seized upon Carson’s comments relating to Obamacare, same-sex marriage, and most recently about guns and self-defense.

In the latest provocation, Carson told CNN he thinks “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed… there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first.”

Put aside that a certain class of opinion makers thinks it offensive and indefensibly hyperbolic to make references to Naziism in the context of any contemporary policy debate.  On the face of the issue, critics seem to reject a self-evident observation.  As Dennis Prager offers on TownHall: “No normal person thinks that armed Jews would have prevented the Holocaust (nor did Carson make such a claim). But no normal person should think that it would have not have been a good thing if many European Jews had weapons. The hallowed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began with the Jews in the Ghetto possessing a total of 10 handguns. Imagine if they had a thousand.”  The Federalist’s Daniel Payne adds detail how the Nazi regime engaged in systematic confiscation of weapons from political opponents, including Jews in particular, and maintained strict gun control as a means to dominate civil society.

Opponents of gun rights are not interested in delving into these historical realities because they want to deny the nexus between gun ownership and self-defense.  In their view, the availability of guns leads to more, not less, criminal violence, not to mention accidental injuries and death.  If only we had more “common sense” gun control, they assure us, the body count of innocents would plummet.

But what is common sense, anyway?  A feel-good compulsion to “do something” when tragedy strikes?  Or is it more sensible to check emotions at the door and look at the empirical evidence about gun violence?

There is a lot of data bandied about by both sides of the issue, and it is hard for any fair-minded person to say the data is conclusive.  What is indisputable is that violent crime has been nosediving for years, even as Americans have more guns than ever before.  Proponents of “concealed-carry” laws think this fact tells the whole story, but it is impossible to prove causation.  In other words, you just cannot prove that more generous gun rights will further reduce crime.

Of course, by that count, it is even more difficult to defend the merits of gun control.  Here is where the policy “laboratory” of our federal system offers insights to anyone who cares to look.  Cities like Chicago, with some of the most stringent restrictions, have some of the worse records on gun violence.  Even Harvard scholars cannot seem to agree whether gun control reduces gun violence or not.

Our nation is based on individual liberty.  Like a doctor whose first duty is to do no harm, our government must not take freedom from the people without just cause.  The burden of proof is on the state, not the citizen.

Mass shootings have grabbed the headlines and prompted President Obama and his fellow Democrats to demand new laws to tighten allegedly insufficient controls on access to guns.  Nowhere has anyone demonstrated that new background checks, assault rifle bans, or magazine restrictions — let alone manufacturer liability — would have prevented the massacres at Roseburg, Aurora, or Newtown.  So why create laws that at best do nothing and at worst reduce the capacity of good guys with guns?  Just to “do something” while enriching the trial attorney lobby?

Jewish critics of Ben Carson, self-declared defenders of sacred Holocaust cows, might want to ask themselves why Israel, which is facing the most acute urban violence in years, has just loosened its civilian permit laws to allow more people to carry concealed firearms.  Time and again over past several weeks, Israelis have taken down terrorist attackers using weapons carried by bystanders or by the victims themselves.  In this case the argument is not academic.  It truly is a matter of life and death.

The liberal political elite will not admit it, but their actions speak louder than words.  They walk among armed security guards while disparaging the rights of common citizens to arm themselves.  Just like they send their kids to private schools while battling school choice for the urban poor.  Just like they fly on private jets while denigrating the fossil fuels that power the working man’s pickup.

Supporters of Ben Carson have had their fill of such hypocrisy.  They are placing their trust in common sense.

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Filed under Domestic Policy, Electoral Politics, Gun Control