Barack Obama’s speech was tremendous. He was strong, forceful, and honest while fighting tooth and nail for most of the fundamentally liberal ideals that I share — arguing them openly instead of filtering or even hiding them as most liberal Democratic candidates have in the past. And in the several places where he strayed from liberal orthodoxy, there were three or four times where I actually found myself changing my mind a little bit.

The most interesting example was his statement about the right to bear arms. He said:

The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.

My reaction was, hey, you know, I think I now realize that I don’t give a fuck if people in the sticks shoot the hell out of each other — as long as I can be damn sure that handguns are 1000% illegal here in New York City, I’ll feel safe enough.

Obama let me imagine a future where the Second Amendment isn’t a national issue at all except to the extent that localities are permitted the right to choose their own paths.

The idea that an adult in Montana should be forbidden from carrying a gun in their pocket just so I can feel safe walking home in Red Hook, Brooklyn now seems like more than just idealism or even ideology — it now feels like a kind of petty pedantry.

This is, of course, something enshrined in the United States Constitution, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find a middle ground where Brooklyn and Montana can still have different rules. The Second Amendment’s words are, in fact, ambiguous enough (notoriously so) for both approaches to be able to survive simultaneously in the same nation’s legal landscape.

“Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”… Flexibility is strength. Is it my deep concern for the safety of Montanans living in a gun-saturated state that made me so uncompromising about the 2nd Amendment? Or was it really just my own desire that I and my loved ones can feel safe in a crowded city with a history of staggering crime? I have no doubt it’s the latter.

(I know this issue is more complex than I make it seem — the lax legality of guns in one state may of course negatively affect crime in a neighboring state where they are contraband… and of course if I had a relative in Montana I would be less flippant about their safety.)

Fight for the Future

Obama also brought the campaign fight back up to a respectable level (if only for the next 24 hours until the Republican campaign starts slinging the mud again). He was harsh in his attacks on McCain, but he explicitly asked us to judge John McCain not based on the consistency or inconsistency of his ideas, nor on whether his policies are driven by sincere conviction or crass political expediency, but rather to debate him and judge him based on on what his policies actually are right now. To do any less would be undignified and cowardly.

(What’s more this argument undermines the misguided faith many independent voters seem to have that McCain is secretly less conservative than he says he is. The reality is that there is no secret maverick freethinking post-partisan John McCain hiding under his sleazy Bush-style right-wing campaign — the election is for the kooky throwback ultra-right-winger he says he is right now and that he says he will be as president.)

Obama threw down the gauntlet and made this campaign about what happens next, what happens tomorrow. The future.

After the first day’s speakers, Democratic talking heads Paul Begala and James Carville thought this convention desperately lacked a single, simple message. They compared it to the 2004 GOP convention where the formulation “Bush is Strong, Kerry is Weak” was the resounding theme. But in my mind, all throughout the convention a theme was emerging: “Obama is the Future, McCain is the past”.

So in the spirit of that future, I include above this iPhone screenshot in which an Obamabot summons me to help the campaign via a pre-speech SMS text message, and wherein I respond immediately after the real Obama’s closing words. And wouldn’t you know, the SMS conversation resembles a traditional call-and-response sermon, from the lectern to a rapt hall, where the speaker’s call to action is echoed by the audience uttering a single simple cheer in response: Yes We Can! VOL [NAME] [TOWN]!


19 responses to “Obama Futurama”

  1. I love how many times I’ve heard people say “Obama has made me see things in a new way” in the last couple of days. Both liberals and conservatives. Its very exciting.

  2. If you cut yourself off from the past, you tend to drift toward the future.

    Coming from countries that have *very* strict gun control laws, I must say, I am in favour. However, it’s simply not possible to do this in the US. There are simply too many guns. The opposition is right on a few points. Hyper-strict gun control laws in the US will only make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to own them. Criminals will continue to have unfettered access to a broad range of firearms. Contrast this with the UK, where for the most part, they’ve had hyper-strict gun control laws. Yes, criminals still have them, but the available cache is far smaller than that of the US.

    But that’s beside the point. I listened to most of the DNC love-fest, and I thought it was brilliant. Michelle’s, Biden’s, the Clintons’ were spot-on. The big O had a fantastic night, hitting all the relevant “attack points” the opposition will use against him. That said, I wasn’t as moved emotionally as some of his other speeches. I wanted to be floored intellectually, and emotionally, and I simply didn’t get the latter.

    Now if all the young’uns register to vote and go to the polls, we’ll have it in the bag. My fear is that they won’t.

  3. I have neither the time nor inclination right now to get into another lengthy gun debate, but if I lived in New York City (instead of a suburb near Erie, PA) I’d still want the right to own a handgun (even if I never left the house/condo/apartment/whatever with it).

    Anytime anyone brings up an AK-47, you know they’re pandering to an illogical, emotional level (a hallmark of the Democrat’s attack on guns – “think of all the poor children who could be riddled with holes from assault rifles!”). In general, criminals have handguns too, not AK-47s.

    But I’ve already said more than I intended to, and I fully support your right not to choose to own a gun. I, however, will likely always own a few and pray that, aside from the once-every-few-months trip to the shooting range, I never have to use ’em.

  4. I should note that I intended my comments not to disparage rural and suburban areas, but to express the reality that widespread gun ownership is a fundamentally different question in big cities filled, by virtue of sheer numbers and high stress levels, people “on the brink.”

    Erik, I can only assume you’ve never lived in a place where on any given day you are liable to cross paths with several thousand people — and I mean you literally cross paths with them face to face — where any number of them may be having the worst day of their life and may be out of their mind. There are probably more certified lunatics and desperate end-of-their-wits people in New York City (pop. 8 million) than there are human beings in all of Erie, PA (pop. 104,000), and it’s an almost certainty that I run across a dozen of them every day on the subways, streets, and highways of New York City. If carrying a gun was legal in NYC, there would be nothing to stop some nut from opening fire and killing innocent people on the slightest whim or urge. This level of danger simply does not exist in less densely populated areas. And owning a gun for self protection from such risk is just absurd given that you’ll probably never get a chance to even touch your own weapon if you find yourself in such a situation.

    You can go ahead and own your guns for your hunting needs, or to protect yourself from whatever danger you think you’ll have enough forewarning that you’ll have time to draw your own weapon, for overpowering a tyrannical government, to commit crimes, or whatever. I really don’t care. But I am willing to promise not to fight to restrict your and your neighbors’ right to have guns in your area if you promise to allow me and my neighbors to restrict guns in my area. Fair enough?

    We may both have contempt for each others’ opinions on this. I think it’s madness for any civilian to own a gun, you think it’s madness not to. But should either of us be so arrogant as to think our opinion applies to everyone everywhere, when a perfectly reasonable compromise lies right in front of our faces? That’s what I liked about Obama’s speech — the willingness to find wise compromise.

  5. Christopher, why would a person crazy enough to go on a killing spree care at all about the fact that it’s illegal to have a gun? Carrying a concealed weapon is illegal here, too, unless you get permits and all that jazz.

    Besides, crazy people live everywhere – not just New York City – and yet killing sprees of the sort you’re talking about simply don’t happen very often. Even less frequently with a handgun.

    Plus, while we’re on this hypothetical you’ve conjured, I don’t buy the “you wouldn’t get a chance to touch your own gun” argument. After all, odds alone say you’d be fine, _especially_ if the guy’s got a handgun and has to stop to change his clip. 😛

    The statistics and studies I’ve read indicate that the best protection against violence of the sort you’re conjuring would be an armed and informed public. Someone tried to kill a bunch of people in a church in Colorado a little while back… until he was stopped by a lady who shot him.

    Most states allow the use of lethal force against someone who is committing a felony (again, not that I ever, ever hope to find myself in such a situation).

    I could be mis-remembering the specific numbers, but you’re something like 3x more likely to survive a violent crime if you’re armed. Crime rates are lower in areas of higher gun ownership, too.

    And I never said I’d carry the gun around New York City – but you’re darn right I’d have it by my bed (as I do here in Little Old Erie) in my domicile.

    To put a wrap on it (you may have the last word, as it’s your site and I’ve argued often enough on my own), I firmly believe based on my readings of the works of several sociologists and criminologists that the “violence problem” is not a gun problem; it’s an economic problem.

  6. @Erik: I don’t want to make this a last word — just acknowledging that I respect your difference on this matter and share your wish to not have to engage in lengthy gun debates.


  7. Dan Conner Avatar
    Dan Conner

    Chris (and others), feel free to ignore or not post this question if it encourages lengthy gun debates, as it’s not particularly related to the point of the post, but it is what I ended up thinking about after reading this post.

    the protection against tyrannical governments is an often heard reason for owning guns. the Bush administration is often touted as one that steps over American’s rights, which I think is down the path of being tyrannical.

    so what is the protection against such governments? it’s realistic to think that is so unlikely to be near impossible. but I don’t know how you could say it will never happen.

  8. Can I get at least one gun-rights supporter to say “I think it’s okay for people in other states or cities to decide on how they want to interpret the Second Amendment”?

    To Dan’s point, is the protection against tyrannical government something that gun-rights supporters think is a strong reason for the citizenry of New York City to be well-armed? Does our (New Yorkers’) lack of armament weaken our entire nation’s freedom by making tyranny more possible?

    Is there no middle ground on this? Is it an all-or-nothing deal?

  9. Fahey
    Enjoyed you post and following your twits thru the DNC.

    Here something to gnaw on

    What if gun ownership was compulsory? That every citizen owns one, is required to know how to use one, is tested periodically on marksmanship skills, etc.

    The only choice then is whether or not to load it.


  10. followup to my previous post..

    i told bonnie of my amendment to the 2nd amendment – not the right to *bear* arms vs the right to *load* arms that we are legally required to carry, and she made the comparison to nuclear total-proliferation, and then promptly made her “you suck, you bastard” look, shook her head wildly, glared icily, and slammed the door.

  11. Gong: Heh, that’s what partners are for. Reality checks.

    Still, Chris Rock famously suggested that we should simply make bullets cost $5,000 each, presumably by using enormous taxes. I liked that idea.

  12. Dan Conner Avatar
    Dan Conner

    I’m undecided on guns rights issues, but I’ll readily can say it seems very reasonable for cities or states to make their own laws on the matter. I wasn’t trying to raise the question of tyrannical governments to prove a point, it was something I was wondering.

    I don’t think it would weaken any defense for one city or state to prohibit the ownership of guns, but it does open up another set of issues. Like whether or not we need to maintain a certain ratio of gun allowing states to gun prohibiting states. Assuming that having someone armed in case of tyrannical governments is an important thing…, way too lengthy of an argument to have in blog comments.

    I guess one aspect of the question was whether or not it was truly “madness for any civilian to own a gun”, or whether that was your opinion for New York City, and other similar areas.

    It may be small, but it’s one thing to say, “I just don’t give a rip what happens in Montana, so I’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone.” And another to respect the position that gun ownership may not be madness in other places. If I were the one needing to make any compromise, the latter would help me be more receptive.

  13. If we’re now going to be required to carry guns, I sure hope the next iPhone has one built in. I really couldn’t deal with having to carry yet another device around (thankfully it wouldn’t be dependent on the phone’s battery).

  14. @ToddG
    maybe having it be tied to the iPhone battery would be *good* thing..

  15. It may be small, but it’s one thing to say, “I just don’t give a rip what happens in Montana, so I’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone.” And another to respect the position that gun ownership may not be madness in other places.

    I regret my harsh wording of that. My point is that I can see why they have a different opinion on the issue, and, most importantly, I can see that if they get their way it doesn’t have the kind of dramatic negative effect I fear the same policy would have here. I also am willing to believe that the high level of gun ownership in rural areas doesn’t lead to the kind of gun violence that even moderate gun ownership leads to in urban areas — i.e., I don’t even think that Montanans are or will shoot each other in any particularly high degree.

    So yeah, my flippant wording was careless. The point is that I think both policies can live together while still minimizing gun violence in both urban and rural areas.

  16. Dan Conner Avatar
    Dan Conner

    Just want to follow up and say I don’t mean to detract from how welcome it is to hear a presidential candidate suggesting approaches to law-making such as this.

  17. Hi Gun Talkers,

    23 years ago, when Chris was a young ‘un, I got a letter from a man named Pete Shields.

    Pete’s 19 year-old son was the last victim of the famous Zodiac killer, a psychotic, violent person who was able to buy a handgun with no questions asked — and go on a killing spree.

    In his grief, Shields founded Handgun Control, a tiny organization dedicated simply to CONTROLLING access to lethal weapons.

    I wept when I read Pete Shield’s letter.

    And anyone who had a brilliant, funny, wonderful son senselessly cut down would have done the same.

    But I did more than cry. I started sending money to Pete Shields, to lobby for sensible gun laws.

    SENSIBLE restrictions. RATIONAL limits.
    Laws that would help make sure that nobody had to bury their beloved child like Pete did.

    What happened? The National Rifle Association went ballistic. They raised millions of dollars to ensure that there would be NO RESTRICTIONS on guns — that ANYBODY could get a gun — and that every KIND of gun or ammo would be available to anyone, including the notorious armor-piercing “cop killer” bullets.

    Police chiefs all across America supported gun control at that time. Maybe they still do, because guns today are so deadly, so lethal, that they pose a serious threat to law enforcement personnel as well as the rest of us.

    Even my own father, who had souvenir guns from World War II locked up in his garage, eventually got rid of them.
    He told me they were simply too dangerous — and statistics show he’s right. A gun in your home is far, far more likely to cause the death of someone in your immediate family than to deter a burglar or repel and attacker.

    Given all that, there is a place for some guns. Two years ago, when I was running for the state legislature, I had to formulate a gun policy. Well, I live in a rural state where hunting is a popular sport and tradition. So I had to honor that tradition.

    I remember a guy coming up to me, all bristly and spoiling for a fight. “What do think about guns and hunting?” he demanded.

    “Hunting is a Vermont tradition and I support it,” I said. That quieted him down.

    There was another guy who asked me the same question. This guy had dog kennels in his yard and was dressed in hunter camo — the real thing.

    When he asked about hunting and guns, I realized that in fact I DID want to cull certain animals from the woods — namely, coyotes and fishers. You see, I have two pet cats who can’t even go out in our yard anymore because of the predators who are proliferating here in Vermont.

    “Tell you what,” I said to my hunter, “if you elect me, I’ll pass a law to allow coyote hunting 365 days of the year.”

    Okay, so coyote lovers will hate me. But hey, all politics are personal. And if you met my kitties, you’d understand.

    And that’s my point. I have two sons that I love dearly. And so when I got the letter from Pete Shields talking about losing his son to a killer with a handgun, my heart broke — and I became a gun control advocate.

    All politics really is personal. And until you can imagine what a gun could do to someone you love, it’s hard to get exercised about any kind of controls on who can own guns, and what kind of guns can be owned.

    And then there’s the question of what — or who — can be killed.

    I think of Sarah Palin, shooting wolves from a helicopter …That’s not hunting, that’s just slaughter for fun.

    But how different is that from my wish to rid my land of predators so my kittens can stretch out in the sun and chase moths in the tall grass?

    Guns and killing … we could talk and debate endlessly…

    But in the end, I do want some controls. Some assurance that my crazy neighbor won’t be allowed to have an anti-tank gun, that my children and yours won’t find unlocked deadly weapons in their friends’ houses, and that gun sellers won’t be allowed to sell guns to angry, homicidal maniacs.

    Is that too much to ask?

  18. As long as we are restricting 2nd Amendment rights from location to location, lets restrict First Amendment rights too in that same fashion. Aw hell, lets just trash the whole Constitution, mean whatever you want it to from state to state, city to city, from socialist sea to socialist sea.

  19. @bang: Actually, the First Amendment is already interpreted quite differently across this country. Pornography and obscenity laws, policies regarding religious observances, etc.

    That said, I also believe that we don’t have to interpret each Amendment, or every line of the Constitution, with exactly the same level of literalness or historic continuity. We’re not robots, and the Constitution is not a computer program. It’s an old document whose interpretation has evolved and matured over time under the auspices of America’s 232 years of continuous democratically-elected leadership. We can, for example, decide that the First Amendment needs to be interpreted slightly more stringently than the Second because speech frequently crosses state lines while bullets, thankfully, rarely do.

    Oh, and you can take your “socialist” comments and shove them up your fascist ass.

    That’s a joke, by the way, intended to illustrate how stupid your final comment truly is.