Newtown Massacre’s Assault Rifle Highlights Right-wing Ideology’s Number One Nemesis: Reality

Together with Hurricane Sandy and President Obama’s reelection, 2012 has been an annus horribilis for American conservatives and their rigid beliefs. Not like in Israel, of course.

Gun control opponents have been running for the hills in the wake of the tragic massacre of the innocents in Newtown, Connecticut. Cerberus Capital Management is selling the manufacturer of the Bushmaster assault rifle that was the instrument of death for the 20 children and 6 adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School; Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and other gun retailers are either eliminating their lines of deadly guns or playing down their marketing campaigns; the National Rifle Association is carefully trying to raise its head after shutting down its operations for 72 hours; and many weapon-loving politicians are scrambling to distance themselves from pro-gun statements they may have made only months, weeks, or even a short few days ago.

The law enacted by the outgoing Republican-dominated Michigan legislature a mere 5 hours before Adam Lanza fired his first bullets in Newtown was embarrassingly emblematic of the conservative predicament: it would have allowed concealed weapons inside stadiums, churches, hospitals, schools and day care centers. Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who had previously signaled his approval of the bill, vetoed it immediately.

It has been a difficult week for conservative right-wingers who believe that unfettered access to any and all weapons, no matter how deadly, are part and parcel of the American way of life. Their staple claims that more dangerous weapons in the hands of the public somehow increase public safety and help reduce crimes have been rendered ridiculous. After years of impressive gains in public opinion, the tables have turned on American gun-lovers, literally overnight.

The same thing happened, come to think of it, less than two months ago, when Hurricane Sandy devastated America’s northeast. Long years of challenging the almost universally accepted scientific basis of climate change were swept away by the unprecedented flooding of coastal towns in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Mitt Romney’s mockery of President Obama for having “promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans”, which drew such hearty guffaws from the delegates at the Republican National Convention, came back to haunt them all, at the worst possible moment.

Obama’s very victory, in fact, shook the foundations of the firm worldview held by so many conservative right-wingers. They had mistakenly assumed that Obama’s failings and shortcomings were so plainly self-evident to everyone that his reelection was nothing less than an impossibility: this was an article of faith, not a political assessment. That’s why so many Republicans, up to and including Romney himself, refused to believe the actual results even after Karl Rove had given up trying to persuade Fox News to retract them on election night.

2012 as a whole, one might say, has been an annus horribilis for right wing ideologues. Time after time, facts on the ground have confounded firmly entrenched beliefs and upended long held party platforms. It’s not just demography that seems to be threatening the future prospects of the Republican Party; it’s the bite of reality itself.

When a party sponsors candidates who believe that “a woman’s body shuts down” when she is raped; when it promotes politicians who claim that the United Nations is poised to send in troops to take over America; when it places the biblical myth of creation on a par with the scientific theory of evolution; when it winks at a campaign aimed at casting doubt on the president’s birthplace or true religion; when all of its members in a House Committee refuse to endorse the scientific basis of climate change; when it adamantly opposes abortions, gay marriage, immigration reform and social welfare yet somehow expects groups affected by these positions to vote for its candidates nonetheless; when its opposes any and all tax hikes, even for the super-rich, and is taken aback at the public’s objections; when its’ official party platform opposes restrictions on “limiting the capacity of clips or magazines or otherwise restoring the ill-considered Clinton gun ban”, no matter what – when all of this craziness occurs simultaneously, it comes to define the party and to make its defeat inevitable.

And when reasonable and moderate leaders are either chucked out of office or cowered into silent acquiescence, as many Republicans have been since the Tea Party’s breathtaking victory in the 2010 Congressional elections - the party’s ability to regroup and recuperate is irreparably harmed as well.

The analogy to Israel is, of course, inevitable. In Israeli politics, both sides believe that the other is divorced from reality: the left stands accused - and has been successfully convicted, it seems, at least in the eyes of the Israeli public – of ignoring the reality of the Arab animus towards Israel and of repeatedly offering dangerous concessions without gaining anything in return.

But the current Israeli government, at least in the eyes of its critics, is also accused of basing the country’s policies on misplaced faith rather than hard-nosed realities. It believes that settlements in the territories improve the country’s security rather than imperil its future; that populating the West Bank is preferable to detaching from it; that the 45 year old status quo of stateless Palestinians is sustainable for many years to come; that demographic developments do not threaten Israel’s Jewish majority; that both a one-state and a two-state solution can be averted; that the world will continue to tolerate Israeli settlement policies that it rejects; that the US-Israeli relationship is so rock-solid that it will weather even prolonged abuse; and that Israeli Western-style liberal democracy will somehow survive years of rule by a coalition of parties that mostly abhor it.

On January 22, Israeli voters are expected to reelect a right-wing government that, by all indications, will be even more ideological and dogmatic than the outgoing one. By the standards of this article, therefore, such a victory may be seen as a ratification of the worldview of the Likud and its allies and a refutation of the ideology of its left-wing opposition. Another possibility is that contrary to the situation in America, in the Holy Land it is reality itself that suffers defeat, with tragedy soon to follow.

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