Homage to the President
I must confess - for the longest time, exclamations about President Clinton's brilliance were met with a "what makes you think so?" by me.
Not any more.
Addressing the Million Mom's March on Sunday, Mr. Clinton spoke about the need to control guns. "The National Rifle Association is worried about gun control, and worried about the Second Amendment," he said. "But see, the Supreme Court said there was a right to travel, yet you need a license to have a car, and you need a license to drive it. And no one is suggesting that you shouldn't!"
"So," he continued, "there is a constitutional right to own a gun, and a constitutional right to travel. Do you hear anyone getting all worked up about car control?"
His listeners roared their approval. They should have fallen to their knees in the face of such brilliance.
To produce one full twist of logic is outstanding. To produce two of them within a minute is exceptional.
Please bear with me as we follow this remarkable performance. Supreme Court opinions are handed down with great regularity - they are also reversed with some frequency. In any event, they are the temporal views of 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 people. They do have consequences, of course. But elevating them to an article of the U.S. Constitution, to the Bill of Rights at that, to the second of the ten original amendments - the word preposterous comes to mind.
For that is what the president did: He declared an opinion of the Supreme Court, proposing the existence of an unwritten right to travel, the equivalent of an irreversible enumerated right in the Constitution.
"Irreversible?" I hear you say. "What about the amendment process? Can it not be simply repealed by majority vote?"
The answer is no. Not unless you are fixin' to do a whole new founding.
You see, those rights have not been granted by the men who wrote the Constitution. They, unlike latter-day office holders, never presumed the authority to grant rights. "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed," they said. In other words, they simply recognized and affirmed pre-existing rights and guaranteed their integrity.
But wait: the president's virtuoso mix of a court's assumptions with the permanence of the Constitution was only one side of a double-whammy.
The other side consisted of the suggestion - delivered with irresistible passion - that the right to travel is exercisable solely through the automobile. That requiring a licence to own and operate a car therefore places the same restriction on travel as the proposed legislation would on gun ownership.
Nearly eight years on Air Force One may have wiped out all memories of traveling by train, horseback, bicycle or - heaven forbid - on foot. But surely, aircraft of various types would still be remembered. (One can also travel in a car as a passenger.)
We needn't worry about Mr. Clinton's memory. It's his intentions we must worry about - his intentions and the brilliance with which he pursues them. Inside one minute, employing two twists, he created parallels between propositions that have nothing whatever to do with one another. He accomplished this by postulating equivalences in the most blatant fashion, first the equivalence between a Supreme Court opinion and an Article of the Constitution, then between cars and guns.
While growing up in Hungary, I was exposed to the very best in demagoguery. I thought no one would ever trump the operatives who had first attended university in Germany, then went to Moscow to be trained at the highest level of party schools.
They couldn't hold a candle to William Jefferson Clinton.
They couldn't hold a candle to our president, because they were able to rely on armored divisions of the Red Army, and the midnight knock on the door if anyone disagreed.
President Clinton is succeeding in a framework still defined by the Constitution. His listeners must be persuaded, and believe that their actions are voluntary.
Most of them do.
Most of them just want a few innocent restrictions that will make life safer, therefore better.
I said we need to worry about the intentions. We need to remind ourselves of the first restrictions on smoking. Remember? Just a few places, where smokers and non-smokers have their own space.
Only the terminally naive fail to see that the ultimate goal is to take the guns out of the hands of ordinary Americans.
And that goal is pursued with every available means. Every tragedy is turned into yet another opportunity to perform the twist and the double twist.
I take my hat off.
We may lose America, but I take my hat off.