Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner has uncovered a fascinating document: an 80-page “talking points” monograph titled “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging,” written by a trio of Democratic political operatives.
The document, as Bedard writes, instructs politicians and advocates “to hype high-profile gun incidents like the Florida slaying of Trayvon Martin to win support for new gun control laws.” Essentially it’s a how-to book on inciting a moral panic.
“The most powerful time to communicate is when concern and emotions are running at their peak,” it advises. Antigun advocates are urged to seize opportunistically on horrific crimes: “The debate over gun violence in America is periodically punctuated by high-profile gun violence incidents including Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, the Trayvon Martin killing, Aurora, and Oak Creek. When an incident such as these attracts sustained media attention, it creates a unique climate for our communications efforts.”
The booklet explicitly urges foes of the Second Amendment to abjure rationality in favor of the argumentum ad passiones, or appeal to emotion. “When talking to broader audiences, we want to meet them where they are,” the authors advise. “That means emphasizing emotion over policy prescriptions, keeping our facts and our case simple and direct, and avoiding arguments that leave people thinking they don’t know enough about the topic to weigh in.”
The do’s and don’ts are consistent with this advice. “Examples of power language” include: “It breaks my heart that every day in our country (state or city) children wake up worried and frightened about getting shot.” “Just imagine the pain that a mother or father feels when their young child is gunned down.” “The real outrage–the thing that makes this violence so unforgivable–is that we know how to stop it and we’re not getting it done.”
And here are examples of “some ineffective language to avoid”: “There’s a clear body of research demonstrating the high social cost of gun violence.” “The policy outcomes we’re after are the ones that can have the most beneficial impact on the rates of violence among the most affected populations.” “Of course, gun violence affects people’s lives. But, it also has a devastating economic impact to the tune of over $100 billion a year. That’s a number that should get every American taxpayer’s attention.”
The monograph was published before the December massacre at Newtown, Conn., and its advice, as Bedard puts it, was “likely followed by top Democratic leaders including President Obama.” Whether the post-Newtown campaign was propter hoc or merely post, there’s no question that the book describes with great accuracy the approach Obama and his fellow antigun zealots took. The paradigmatic example, as we noted in April, was a New York Times op-ed carrying the name of Gabrielle Giffords, which was a model of unreasoning vehemence.
The campaign proved remarkably ineffective. A few states–Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New York–enacted new antigun laws amid the post-Newtown panic. But it was hardly a national trend: Democratic Party dominance of state government was a necessary condition. On Capitol Hill, the big gun-control effort ended with a whimper in April, as even the mildest measures failed to win approval in the Democratic Senate. In fact, that Giffords op-ed was a reaction to that outcome, not an attempt to prevent it.
Why didn’t these cynically manipulative tactics work? Maybe because the antigun zealots aren’t as cynical as they imagine themselves to be–which is to say that they themselves are the most susceptible to these sorts of emotional appeals.
After all, Obama was genuinely furious when he appeared at the Rose Garden in April and raged impotently against the Senate for thwarting his efforts. No doubt the president was, as the monograph advises, trying to manipulate others by playing on their emotional weakness. He ended up playing on his own weakness instead.
The magazine that styles itself Popular Science yesterday featured two curiously juxtaposed articles on its website. The first, by feminist polemicist Katie McDonough, was reprinted from Salon.com. Its title: “Fetal Pain Is a Lie: How Phony Science Took Over the Abortion Debate.”
Post Continues Shot to the Heart – WSJ.com.