U-G-L-Y You Ain’t Got No Alibi!

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.