When President Obama emphatically declared, in the wake of the recent Oregon shooting, that he intended to politicize his campaign to implement “common sense gun control” (which in his mind means Australian-like confiscation) my mind turned to a man most unlike Obama, the Greek philosopher Socrates. Socrates died because his fellow citizens politicized everything, and did not recognize individual liberties. So when Obama calls on Americans to politicize “gun control” he is deliberately and mischievously using the language of democracy to promote tyranny, just as Athenian “democrats” tyrannized their nation two millennia ago.
In 399 B.C. the citizens of Athens convicted Socrates of corrupting the city-state’s youth and for impiety. For this he was sentenced to death, compelled to drink a potion of hemlock until he expired. In reality, the public “gadfly” (in his student Plato’s words) had run afoul of the state’s elites by questioning their intelligence, probity, and competence. Athens was a democracy, but not one that guaranteed individual liberty. It was in fact, a tyrannical democracy that politicized (and by extension criminalized) any activity that the elites could convince a majority of the citizenry was improper or inconvenient.
For all their faults, the ancient Greeks misuse of democratic ideas pales in comparison to modern tyrants who have misappropriated the so-called “will of the majority” to oppress and dominate their nations. Not for nothing did Lenin choose to call his party “Bolshevik” translated as “one of the majority,” thus claiming the political right to implement a regime of totalitarian cruelty.
Though Plato was Socrates’ most famous student, his true philosophical heirs were the cynics and then the stoics. When the Romans broke free of their Etruscan kings and cast about for a more democratic polity they settled on a republican form of government, based on stoic principles, that guaranteed rights and liberties (as least for the sharply defined classes of Roman citizenry) at the expense of pure democracy. When our founding fathers in turn sought a practical and fair form of government that would also guarantee individual liberties, they chose the Roman model, not the Greek one. Our republic is very directly the offspring of Socratic ideas. Not for nothing is Socrates called the father of Western philosophy.
If Obama has demonstrated anything in nearly seven years of a chaotic and incompetent presidency, it is that he despises Western principles and ideas, and would like nothing better than transform our carefully crafted and noble republican experiment into a third-world-like autocratic, socialist kleptocracy, not unlike like Indonesia, where he spent many of his formative years. Unfortunately, step by step, however bumbling, he is succeeding among an increasing somnambulant, distracted, and uninformed electorate. Effectively demolishing our 2d Amendment liberties would be a capstone on his transformative effort, and set the groundwork for the total ruination of our republican system by his successors.
Obama’s open willingness to feign righteous anger while politicizing the issue of gun control is indeed cynical, coming especially as it did as Russia’s decisive moves in the Middle East embarrassed his administration’s policies and revealed his personal weaknesses. But quite likely Obama also sincerely believes he is on the right side of the gun issue politically, and that with well-timed demagoguery, a few more nut-case caused shootings (outside of African-American inner cities), and a sympathetic media, he might indeed make inroads against gun rights before his term expires. That he failed to do so when he better had the chance, when his party controlled Congress and killings more disturbing than the Oregon incident shocked the nation, he and his supporters no doubt attribute to other pressing concerns, passage of ObamaCare and not neglecting his golf game.
That Obama doubled down on his politicization effort at recent his press conference, shows that he thinks he has a political winner. Here we might take some comfort that Obama is often wrong. In this as in most things he differs from Socrates, who took the Oracle’s pronunciation that he was Athens’ smartest man to mean that he was the only man who knew how much he did not know. Obama falls on the other end of the ledger, a fool for believing he is always right.
Observing his press conferences, it is hard to believe that Obama was ever a “student of history” or a Constitutional Law professor, much less at any time the “smartest man in the room.” Socrates is credited with developing the method of using probing questions and direct answers to develop dialogue to search for truth. Obama avoids such opportunities, and when he does engage the press (though they are almost never challenging or hostile) does so in the turgid, blustery, and run-on manner of people who use words to hide meaning rather than enhance it. One observer at FOX clocked in his responses at an average of 9 minutes each during last weeks’ presser. A look at the transcript makes this appear reasonable. One wonders what his Con Law classes must have been like, and whether administrators passed out stimulants to keep his students awake.
Obama is neither a student of history, a Constitutional scholar, nor particularly smart. And he is not much of a grownup either. This is evident in his dealings with foreign leaders, especially his repeatedly childish insulting behavior towards Benjamin Netanyahu (most recently pulling Secretary of State Kerry and America’s U.N. ambassador from the Israeli prime minister’s memorable address to that body.) It is also evident in his awkward but revealing response to a question about politicization of gun rights:
“And if we’re going to do something about that, the politics has to change. The politics has to change. And the people who are troubled by this have to be as intense and as organized and as adamant about this issue as the folks on the other side who are absolutists and think that any gun safety measure is an assault on freedom, or communistic -- or a plot by me to take over and stay I power forever or something.” (Laughter.)
Let’s leave aside Obama’s usual rhetorical tics, e.g., repeating phrases, referring to himself, and calling good hearted Americans that disagree with him “the other side.” As anyone who has raised a teenager understands, Obama here is trying to divert attention from one misstep by accusing us of thinking he’s doing much worse as in “No I didn’t miss curfew dad, and you probably think I’m using drugs and having sex too!” It’s a juvenile way to address an important issue, and insulting to anyone with half a brain listening to it. And what does that say about the lap-dog press corps’ supportive laughter at such a sophomoric attempt at humor?
I don’t know if Obama is a closet communist or secretly plans to install himself as a dictator, but nothing he’s said in the past few days would reassure someone who did. At the very least, his desire to turn an explicitly guaranteed liberty in to a political contest shows he has no appreciation of the freedoms the Constitution protects, especially for minorities, or the traditions of Western governance that led there. Had he lived in ancient Athens he’d have gladly poured Socrates his cup of poison.