Gunplay If You Live in Washington, You ...

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The legislationis not a work of art, either. Anything that involves computers and backgroundchecks?as this bill does for gun purchases?is an abuse waiting tohappen. As computers grow more sophisticated, people find more sophisticatedways to use them?all of them always involving curtailment of liberties.Australia, actually, is the country that pioneered the antilibertarian use ofdatabases. Even in the 1980s, the Australians I hung around with in London woulddescribe the burdens of putting their lives in order before going abroad evenfor a vacation. Everyone who left the country had his name run through a computerat the airport, and there were a whole host of things that could pop up onscreento render you a hostage on Australian soil: back taxes, child support payments,bad debts from years ago, even parking tickets.
It'shighly unlikely that our own well-organized interest groups?let alone ourobscenely efficient government surveillance organizations?will be ableto resist piggybacking on this kind of tracking system. At some point, the rightto bear arms becomes a lot more trouble than it's worth. Which, I suppose,is the point.
Quayle: Smarter Than Gore Everytime Al Gore takes the lead in something, I'm reminded of his similarityto Dan Quayle. Quayle is running a flat-footed presidential campaign?notto mention running out of money?and he'll be out of contention bythe time we hit New Hampshire. But Gore has a flat-footed campaign, too, andhe has a fighting chance at being president. Don't tell me it's becauseGore is smarter. In fact, there is plenty of evidence?not least the 1992vice presidential debate?that Quayle is the smarter of the two. He certainlyhas smarter speechwriters.
In fact,Quayle, though his presidential prospects may already be shrouded in doom, hasgiven the very best speeches of this young campaign. Last week, on the seventhanniversary of his (admittedly overrated) Murphy Brown speech, Quayle issuedan attack on elites in San Francisco. That's the place to do it, of course?metropolitan,multicultural, gay and richer than anyplace else in the country. It's theSister Souljah method. The key thing that made Bill Clinton a better candidatethan either of the milquetoasts he faced was his willingness to propound hisprogram in the face of those who wouldn't necessary like it. He didn'tjust follow the time-honored Republican method of telling the Rotary Club howgood business was and the Southern Baptist Convention how good prayer was andArcher Daniels Midland how good ethanol subsid?

But I digress.Quayle's speech was on the "legal aristocracy." For a conservativepolitician, it's a trope of great explanatory power. It allows him to blamesomeone for the fact that there's no prayer in school, condemn Washingtongridlock, protect his big-business donors (or claim to) from excessive litigation,draw attention to the fact that regulation itself is big business and lambastethe trial lawyers who are the Democratic Party's single biggest sourceof campaign dosh outside of China?all in one fell swoop. Clinton hack PaulBegala mocked Quayle for trying "to blame lawyers for all the problemsin our schools." And it may be true that Quayle fails to see that there'salmost a physics of regulation in society. If you erode customs, you get lawyers. But it's Begala who doesn't realize that not all regulationis alike, and the triumph of lawyers is not exactly a healthy sign.

And Quaylewas up to something even bigger. Though he was much belittled for talking abouta "left-wing cultural elite" in 1992, he was right, of course. (Ifyou disagree, please drop a note the next time you hear of Barbra Streisandand Spike Lee voting for a Republican.) Now he has expanded that point. In Quayle'smind, the Democratic Party has become the party of the elite tout court?notjust in culture, not just in government. In describing them as such, he resortedto the rhetoric of generations of left-wing sociologists and agitators: "Infunding its cultural agenda, the legal aristocracy has not worked alone. Ithas been aided by a willing and compliant news media and an entertainment communitythat transmits counterculture values. They live in gated communities and sendtheir children to expensive private schools. This is their world. But it'snot the real world."

Sorry?powerfulcorporations as puppeteers of a media propaganda network? This sounds less likeRonald Reagan than Rosa Luxembourg. It may be nonsense. It may be paranoid.But it's coherent, and it's very new. Because Quayle's implicationis that the Democrats are the party of the rich and the Republicans the partyof the working poor.

I like it.It will be interesting to see how this line of thinking plays out, and if anyonebuys it. There has been evidence for quite some time that Democrats are theparty of rich elites, Republicans the party of working stiffs. But there wasalways evidence to the contrary: Republicans, for instance, remained the partyof the global financial elite, and the evidence was that they favored free tradeand the Democrats didn't. But a stunning poll out last week shows thatthat's no longer true. The Association of Women in International Tradecommissioned a poll from EPIC/MRA asking respondents whether they believed theUnited States should continue participating in the North Atlantic Free TradeAgreement with Mexico, or pull out. Democrats were in favor of continuing inthe pact by 27 percent to 13. Republicans, by 25-20, were for pulling out.

GOP: Prole and Proud of It Okay,now let's pile up the anecdotal evidence that the Republicans are the partyof the horny-handed rabble. There's the announcement by Jeff "Skunk"Baxter, late of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, that he is mulling a runfor Congress against Brad Sherman in the California 24th. This is a real prole/nobmatchup. The last time I saw Skunk, he had a walrus mustache, and the bleary-eyedlook that seems to be mandatory if you grow a walrus mustache. The last timeI saw Brad Sherman, he was a dorky little bald guy from Harvard Law. (Verybald, in fact?his 1996 campaign handed out combs reading, "You canuse one more than I can.")
Just playingfor those two bands is a stunning achievement for Skunk. There was never a bandmore intellectual than Steely Dan, and never a band more anti-intellectual thanthe Doobies. What's the journalistic equivalent? Probably spending halfyour time writing pieces on paleontology for Raritan and half your timewriting Cindy Adams' material. Skunk has carried the anti-intellectual/intellectualdichotomy into his political life. He seems to know next to nothing about economics,but has made himself perhaps the world's leading authority on nuclear defense.He does have a bit of a resume problem. He claims to have been an adviser forthe space program, which he was not. But who didn't make such claims inthe 70s?

Also keepingup the GOP's working-class image was Steve Forbes' New Hampshire campaigndirector Peter Robbio, who got arrested last month at the Black Brimmer restaurantin Manchester for pulling a gun on three guys who were giving him "threateninglooks." (Why didn't he just say, "Hey, lay off, man?it'sa Republican state.") The most mystifying part of the episode was the statementmade by Forbes' campaign manager Bill Dal Col when asked if he knew hismost important employee had been arrested. According to the Manchester Union-Leader,Dal Col said that "all he knew was that Robbio resigned from his campaignpost on April 17 for personal reasons."

Yeah?likehis being "personally" in jail.

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