The worst in Newtown punditry: a round-up

It is a truth universally acknowledged: in American public life, wherever there is unimaginable tragedy and horror, farce and buffoonery are sure to follow. The clownishness is rarely inherent in the event itself, but in the frequently ridiculous media reactions to it. A case in point is the Newtown massacre. It hasn’t even been a week, and yet already it’s inspired some of the most awful punditizing I have ever seen in my life.

Let’s review some of the lowlights. Megan McArdle’s contribution to the field is already legendary. As you may recall, McArdle is the libertarian super-genius who thinks training little kids to gang-rush crazed gunmen, kamikaze-style, would be a far saner and more effective policy to stop gun violence than some latte-sipping liberal conspiracy like stricter gun laws. The idiocy of this suggestion is so perfect it’s downright inspiring. A zillion points for Gryffindor!

I’m afraid that, compared to McMegan, the rest of the conservatarian pundits all look like a bunch of pikers and rank amateurs. But that’s not to say they don’t have their charms. Glenn Reynolds, for example, is the hands-down winner in the Oh, the Irony! division. Hurriedly thumbing through his Bartlett’s for a heartwarming gun nut quotation to suit the occasion, he tried this one on for size:

“After a shooting spree,” author William Burroughs once said, “they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.” Burroughs continued: “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.”

You know, William — or as he is better known, William S. — Burroughs? The Beat generation writer dude infamous for shooting and killing his wife when what he called their “William Tell act” (spoiler alert: there had never been such an act) went terribly wrong? Oopsy! The next authority Reynolds invokes in his piece is John Lott. Yes, that John Lott. Suffice it to say you have outdone yourself here, Mr. Reynolds, sir!

Moving on to pompous gasbag division of the pundit class, we have Pope Ross of Douthat. On Sunday, he addressed the faithful, noting . . . oh, I don’t know . . . that innocents were killed, I think. Or something. Thanks for the news flash, Ross! Honestly, I marvel that Douthat has somehow connived to get the New York freaking Times to keep him on salary for writing bloviations such as the following, from the Newtown column, about Christmas:

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.

If you can explain to me what he means by “the myrhh that prepares bodies for the grave,” and why that it is supposed to be good writing, I will award you with a free subscription to this blog. Promise!

Next up: in the pure-unadulterated-bats@#$-cray-cray category, I gotta give this one to none other than the once-and-future birther queen, Ms. Orly Taitz. Remember this 2009/10-era lunatic? Well, she’s baaaaccck. I realize that she’s not actually a pundit, but her theories about Newtown are so awesomely cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs that I just have to share. Taitz is alleging that the true mastermind behind the massacre is none other than . . . dum dum DUM . . . Barack Obama! Psych! She says that Obama is “trying to show that some person can appear out of the blue and slaughter people” so he take away everyone’s guns and “gain an absolute power.” She insinuates that Adam Lanza was drugged or hypnotized “to fulfill a political mission.” Well-played, madam — extremely well-played! This is old-school paranoid Bircher-style wingnuttery at its finest. I strongly recommend her website for hours upon hours amazing information and entertainment.

Finally, we come to this, well, I guess you could call it extraordinary piece titled “Guns and the Decline of the Young Man.” The author, a Princeton English professor named Christy Wampole, seems to be arguing that young white dudes are shooting up kindergartens because . . . feminism! And that the answer to this terrible problem is for women to stop “delight[ing] in their [men’s] losses” (those feminist meanies!) and to take up “a more deferential attitude” toward men. That’ll do the trick — I’m sure of it! I don’t have the patience to elucidate the five thousand and one things that are wrong and offensive about this article, and anyhow, Echidne of the Snakes and Melissa McEwan got there first and said it better than I could.

I will, however, note two things. First, Wampole cites no empirical evidence whatsoever to back up her claims. And I mean zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis. It’s completely anecdotal. Is that how they’re teaching students to argue at Princeton these days?

Second, there was actually a very good opinion piece in yesterday’s Times, by Adam Lankford, a professor of criminal justice who has studied what drives suicidal mass killers. In other words: as opposed to the Princeton literature professor, someone who knows what he’s talking about, and can back up his argument with research and facts.

Lankford says that one of the things suicidal mass killers have in common is “a deep sense of victimization and belief that the killer’s life has been ruined by someone else, who has bullied, oppressed or persecuted him.” Given this fact, it would seem that Wampole’s advice, that women actively cater to this belief, and reinforce men’s self-pity, aggrieved feelings, and sense of entitlement, would be the very worst thing they could do for them. It would only strengthen their belief that they are victims and therefore, according to Lankford, make them more, and not less, likely to commit violence. The competition is stiff, but the terrible practical advice and ugly gender ideology in Wampole’s piece easily place it among the very worst of the Newtown punditry I have come across so far.

I should note, though, that this is a preliminary investigation and by no means exhaustive. I mean, has Camille Paglia or Dick Morris weighed in yet? I think not! And until they do, and perhaps some others as well, the “Worst in Newtown Punditry” bake-off is far from over. Far from over!

Feel free to leave your own “worst Newtown punditry” nominations in the comments.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee