Obama's Theater of the Absurd
In “Superfudge,” Judy Blume’s well-loved and best-selling children’s book from 1980, the title character—Farley Drexel Hatcher, a wildly precocious and rambunctious 4-year-old who goes by the nickname “Fudge”—acquires his dream pet: a chatty myna bird.
Fudge names his bird Uncle Feather; soon, he begins teaching it new words. Much to the chagrin of Fudge’s family, neighbors, and kindergarten teacher, Uncle Feather’s favorite phrase soon becomes clear: “Bonjour, stupid!”
On the whole, I’m not a huge fan of the moral lessons of “Superfudge”—there’s quite a bit of whining and complaining and threatening to run away from home, as opposed to, say, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in which the whiny kids are escorted out by Oompa Loompas and the good obedient child ultimately earns the keys to a tremendous vehicle of capitalist job creation—but that’s neither here nor there. “Superfudge” has at least one bit of prophetic wisdom: With “Bonjour, stupid!,” Uncle Feather might as well have been welcoming in 2016.
I don’t want to be too harsh on the new year, with its chubby baby cheeks, jaunty satin sash, and blank, giant kewpie doll eyes that are actually kind of terrifying. I don’t even really like the word “stupid.” But from the beaks of the Uncle Feathers of this world spout occasional wisdom, and “Bonjour, stupid!” might be the perfect symbolic rhetorical mix for much of today’s politics: a dash of faux sophistication followed by a rash of daft prescriptions completely unaligned with reality.
Exhibit A came this week, with President Obama’s widely hyped national address on guns. Over the weekend, the public relations rumblings from the White House began: Congress, that shame-faced den of bought-off thieves (fact check: mostly true), refuses to act on the gun scourge currently destroying America (fact check: not exactly true), so Obama would do it himself, alone, heroically, through executive order.
Gun control advocates swooned. Gun rights supporters muttered about the abuse of federal power, and waited with bated breath. The suspense slowly built, wafting as high as the tallest and tackiest imaginary country club buffet-line seafood tower—a gleaming tower, filled with piles of terrific and exotic crustaceans—that could possibly lurk in the wilds of Donald Trump’s brain.
And then, on Tuesday, after flashes of light and endless smatterings of applause, the Oscars of gun control began. After the cascade of words, various self-congratulations, a wry “I taught constitutional law—I know a little bit about this,” several references to horrific tragedies, and later moments coated with tears, there it was, for all to see: a whole lot of nothing.
No, really. Obama’s speech was pure spectacle; in a larger sense, it was theater of the absurd. In the wake of almost 40 minutes of a supposedly groundbreaking address on guns, the liveliest debate among America’s press corps centered on whether the president’s copious tears were real or fake.
The president’s tears were likely real. Most of his gun-related proposals were decidedly not. Obama’s recommended actions, reported the Associated Press, “would have no impact in keeping weapons from the hands of suspects in several of the deadliest recent mass shootings that have spurred calls for tighter gun control.” Obama earned one particularly rapturous bout of applause when he bravely called for background checks for all “engaged in the business” of selling guns—a call for “nothing more,” as Jonathan Adler noted at the Washington Post, “than a restatement of existing legal requirements.”
To be fair to Obama, his speech achieved at least one thing: Smith & Wesson stock soared, jumping 11.1 percent on the same day. Over the past year, thanks in part to presidential rhetoric, the gun manufacturer’s stock has climbed 125 percent. Gun sales have surged around the country, with the FBI performing a record 23,141,970 background checks in 2015.
Gun homicides, meanwhile, have plummeted. According to the Pew Research Center, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of firearm homicides fell from seven per 100,000 Americans in 1993 to 3.6 per 100,000 in 2013. The deadliest shootings often occur, not coincidentally, in “gun-free” zones.
In America’s gun debate, alas, facts often don’t seem to matter—and the Obama administration’s fondness for the theater of fake solutions goes far beyond guns. Take the much-vaunted Iran nuclear weapons deal, which Iran immediately ignored. How about the dramatic, sanctimonious, and “world-saving” Paris climate deal, which was flanked by multiple private jets, expensive French dinners, thousands of wine glasses to wash, and which binds no one to follow its rules?
Both of these deals were hailed by global sophisticates. Both, as is now obvious, were total malarkey. So, as Uncle Feather would say, bonjour, 2016. Let’s try to keep the shenanigans to a minimum.