I like Lawrence O’Donnell, a polished combination of eloquence and passionate pugnacity. Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, however, he more than any other host at MSNBC has allowed his rhetoric to get a little overheated when discussing the National Rifle Association. Even as a member of that group, I confess that I have little use for it and will probably let my membership lapse if it hasn’t already. If it’s not going to represent the views of 80% of its members, than the NRA doesn’t offer anything you can’t get from the Auto Club, namely hotel discounts.
On his Wednesday, February 13th broadcast, O’Donnell’s “Rewrite” segment focused for the second time on the NRA’s “enemies list,” which the organizaton’s lobbying arm preferred to call a list of anti-gun persons, businesses, and organizations. I would love to link to this list, but an embarrassed NRA pulled it from their web site. A copy appeared in a dark, dusty corner of the same web site, but disappeared when it was discovered, too. It’s probably skulking behind some firewall, ready to reappear when the “Connecticut effect” has worn off. It’s safe to say that the number of movie stars and television personalities not on the list is probably smaller than the number on the list.
I will agree that the existence of this list is a little creepy but it’s not nearly as sinister as O’Donnell makes it sound. His big crescendo was the number of African-American and Jewish organizations that appear on the list. To O’Donnell, there was no possible explanation other than Wayne LaPierre’s raging racism and antisemitism.
First, there is the inconvenient fact that the list was found on the web site of the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, which makes it Chris Cox’s list more than Wayne LaPierre’s. That’s not to say that Wayne didn’t have some input.
Looking at the African-American organizations and Jewish organizations in isolation from the large number of other organizations on the list does give the impression that the NRA is targeting them because of some ethnic hatred, but that ignores how the NRA really thinks.
Every person or organization on that list, at some time, campaigned in favor of gun control, lobbied against some NRA-backed legislation, or perhaps filed an amicus brief opposing the NRA’s side in a legal dispute. The individuals on that list could have said or did something to prove beyond a doubt that they are not Ted Nugent. Rather than a “enemies” list, it’s really more of a “simmering grudge” list, a “do not patronize, endorse, or support because they were mean to us” list.
Calling it an “enemies list” will put MSNBC’s core audience in mind of Nixon and Watergate, two subjects guaranteed to get their juices flowing, but is that really necessary to make O’Donnell’s point? Assigning racist motives to this list and describing the NRA as the “blood-soaked lobby for mass murderers” is the sort of rhetorical overreach that can come back to bite O’Donnell and the legislative push for gun safety reform when it appears on Fox News. With these clips, Fox would have not trouble portraying O’Donnell’s comments, and by extension, the whole push for post-Sandy Hook reforms, as the ravings of paranoid, gun-grabbing lefties. That will not doom the push for gun reform by itself, but O’Donnell should understand that his own rhetoric is giving aid, comfort, and ammunition to people he opposes.
One only need report the facts to render the NRA impotent and irrelevant. Painting a Hitler mustache on Wayne LaPierre’s picture doesn’t really help.