The first and most obvious thing about the House Democrats’ gun-control sit-in is that it is, as usual, purely symbolic. No legislation was or is going to come from it, and everybody knew this going in.
I pointed this out before during a similar pseudo-filibuster intended to push global warming legislation. The point is not to achieve anything but to act out prescribed roles to endow oneself with a sense of personal moral authority, if only in one’s own mind. At the end of the day, it’s not even about the audience, because let’s face it, very few people outside political circles are really watching. Of those who are watching, very few are not already committed to one side of this debate or the other.
But if this is all about thinking in terms of narrative and symbols, there’s something curious—and not at all surprising—about how the symbols are being used. All of them have the exact opposite of their original meaning. That, when you think about it, is also kind of the point of the exercise. The old “liberals” have spent the past few decades abandoning all of their best ideals, and the final stage of that liquidation is to reverse the meaning of all previous narratives so there is no longer any memory of those ideals to interfere with the Left’s new agenda.
There are four symbolic narratives the Democrats are invoking in order to reverse their meaning.
1) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (and Does Nothing)
Like the global warming protest, the current display takes the form of a brave vigil to disrupt normal business and push through legislation—but it’s actually a cover for Democrats’ own failure to achieve that legislation.
In the language of symbols and narrative, this is all about playing “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” But this isn’t a brave outsider defying the Washington establishment to push an agenda that has been denied a vote. This is the establishment of a major party trying to cover up for the fact that they have once again failed to deliver for their base on a big issue.
While Democrats were sitting on the floor of the House to demand movement on these bills, all of the legislation had already died in the Senate, and it died in part because Democrats voted down more moderate, incremental bills proposed by Republicans. And because—and nobody wants to talk about this—Democrats from more moderate states reflected the will of their constituents and voted against gun control.
This leads us to our second symbolic inversion.
2) Power to the People, Except When They Disagree with Us
The nominal goal of the sit-in was to “demand a vote.” Except that there already was a vote and their side lost. Voting is how we got the current (relative) absence of gun control, because pro-gun policies are actually popular with the American people, and the long-term history is one of declining public support for gun control. So it’s no wonder we have Republican majorities who were elected after campaigning on their support for the Second Amendment.
On the state level, there has been plenty of action in passing gun laws—which have generally loosened restrictions on owning and carrying guns. Because that’s what the people want. We know this, because they voted on it.
So this isn’t about demanding a vote. This is about demanding that we overturn the results of previous voting.
3) Occupy Ourselves!
The House gun control stunt has all the trappings of a sit-in protest. Because they’re, you know, sitting on the floor and all. But what are they occupying? Their own legislative chamber. The whole thing was summed up in two tweets.
@bitteranagram @Tracinski on the floor of a place that has available chairs– Brownian Motion (@cobrownell) June 23, 2016
Ah, but if they sat in the chairs, this would look exactly like any ordinary day in the House of Representatives, and it would be obvious that nothing brave or interesting is happening.
Then there are the copious quantities of food that make the whole think look like a catered picnic. I don’t know about you, but I’m not signing up for the revolution unless there’s free Chick-fil-A.
This all reminds me of the college president who announced he was staging a “sit-in” in his own office. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
4) Just Like Selma, But in Reverse
All the posturing about this being a brave act of civil disobedience is all the more preposterous because some of the people involved actually engaged in brave acts of civil disobedience once upon a time, so you would think they would be able to tell the difference. But no, we get Democrats singing “We Shall Overcome” and comparing this to Selma.
‘A little more than 50 years ago, I crossed a bridge not just one time, but it took us three times to make it all the way from Selma to Montgomery,’ [Rep. John Lewis] said during a brief press conference after adjournment, referring to the pivotal civil rights marches in Alabama that helped shift public opinion in favor of civil rights nationwide in 1965. ‘We have other bridges to cross.’
But this is actually the complete opposite of Selma. The point of Selma was to restore civil rights that had been arbitrarily taken away from an oppressed minority. The purpose of this movement is to arbitrarily deprive people of their civil rights. That’s the upshot of the bill to block people on a terrorist watch list from being able to buy guns. The problem is that anyone can be put on the watch list without “due process,” that is, without any objective legal process. But Democrats now view due process as their chief obstacle.
So they are stealing the symbolism of the civil rights movement to use it for the cause of depriving people of civil rights. Which kind of sums the whole thing up, doesn’t it?
I have long made the argument that the Left is interested in symbols over reality. (As this year demonstrates, that’s not just true of the Left.) But what happens when you put symbols over reality is that eventually you so completely lose sight of the connection between the two that you begin to use the symbols for the exact opposite of what they originally meant.
The Left wants to maintain their symbolic position as outsiders bravely battling the establishment to stand up for the people and guarantee our civil rights. They have actually become the voice of an entrenched establishment that wants to override the will of the people and take away our civil rights.
But they use all of the old symbols to cover up for the self-liquidation of their ideals.
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