Is the GOP Capable of Self-Criticism?

Its silence about NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre suggests not.

Two weeks ago, Chatterbox invited any nationally prominent Republican to come forward and endorse the proposition that comments made by Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association executive vice president, about Andrew McKelvey, the CEO of, were “lunatic” and “completely wrong.” In a speech, LaPierre had compared McKelvey, who provoked LaPierre’s ire by founding a gun-control group called Americans for Gun Safety, to Osama Bin Laden.

Chatterbox didn’t really expect any nationally prominent Republicans to write in directly, but he figured a Slate reader would tip him off should LaPierre be rebuked by any prominent ideological ally. No such e-mail appeared. Today, Chatterbox entered “Wayne LaPierre” and “Osama Bin Laden” into the Nexis database. That turned up a smattering of commentary (the New Republic and Business Week ran squibs; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch an editorial), all of it negative, but not one critical quotation attributable even to a nationally obscure Republican. Not even on background!

Let’s review what the NRA’s LaPierre said about McKelvey (a lengthier text of LaPierre’s remarks can be found in Chatterbox’s earlier item, and a video of the entire speech, from the NRA’s own Web site, is available if you click here, select “video archives,” and look for “I’ll Fight For Freedom: Wayne LaPierre at the 2002 NRA Annual Meeting, April 27-28, 2002”):

Andrew McKelvey’s network kind of operates and sounds a lot like Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda. An extremist billionaire with a political agenda, subverting honest diplomacy, using personal wealth to train and deploy activists, looking for vulnerabilities to attack, fomenting fear for political gain, and funding an ongoing campaign to hijack your freedom and take a box-cutter to the Constitution of the United States. That’s political terrorism. That’s political terrorism, and it’s a far greater threat to your freedom than any foreign force.

If that isn’t a lunatic statement, what is?

The GOP’s reluctance to condemn LaPierre suggests that its capacity to police its constituencies has weakened since 1995, when former President George Bush resigned very publicly from the NRA to protest LaPierre’s characterization of federal law enforcement officials as “jackbooted thugs.” In that instance, LaPierre actually ended up apologizing. This time out, Bush fils was entirely silent about LaPierre’s crack and LaPierre, unsurprisingly, hasn’t apologized.

Chatterbox did find a little conservative commentary about LaPierre’s fevered remarks when he scanned the Weblogs. InstaPundit’s Glenn Reynolds offered that comparing McKelvey to Bin Laden was “silly,” then linked to a Web site that claims the 1968 gun-control bill “was lifted, almost in its entirety, from Nazi legislation.” Reynolds’ (vaguely tongue-in-cheek) message seemed to be that McKelvey more closely resembles Adolf Hitler than Osama Bin Laden. More constructively, James Taranto’s “Best of the Web Today” column in the online Wall Street Journal said LaPierre’s comments were “beyond the pale.” A blogger who goes by the Ayn Rand-derived nom de plume “Jane Galt” called LaPierre’s comment “excruciatingly dumb.” And Andrew Sullivan’s Web site apparently awarded LaPierre’s outburst a Derbyshire Award, which Sullivan bestows periodically on outrageous and insupportable public statements. (Chatterbox can’t provide a link because Sullivan hasn’t archived the item yet. The Derbyshire Award is named for John Derbyshire, an often-excitable columnist for National Review Online.) The most expansive conservative criticism Chatterbox could find online appears on the Web site of UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh:

Equating McKelvey to Bin Laden is logically and morally unsound, because it’s blind to the vast differences in the magnitude and character of different kinds of human misconduct. It’s deeply unpersuasive and alienating to much of the public. And it undermines our ability to live in peace in a constitutional culture that, whether you like it or not, is composed of people with many different views about the Constitution.

A very generous definition of “nationally prominent Republican” might include Sullivan, Volokh, and perhaps Taranto. (Volokh and Taranto are registered Republicans. Chatterbox can’t be certain about Sullivan, who was unreachable this afternoon, but he’ll assume Sullivan’s a registered Republican, too.) Still, none of the three marginally famous GOP-ers condemned LaPierre with language quite so blunt as “lunatic,” as Chatterbox had challenged the GOP to do. Chatterbox selected the phrases “lunatic” and “completely wrong” because that was how Democratic consultant Bob Shrum, on the May 2 edition of CNN’s Crossfire,described Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s unfounded charge that President Bush knew in advance of, and somehow acceded in, the Sept. 11 attacks. On that same Crossfire program, GOP consultant Mike Murphy defendedLaPierre’s Osama crack!

The same Bob Shrum who denounced McKinney’s “lunatic” accusations was recently criticized in this publication by Joe Klein for being too much of a populist rabble-rouser. But since Shrum’s Crossfire appearance, we’ve learned that prior to Sept. 11, the CIA did warn Bush about possible al-Qaida hijackings, a fact the administration has been less than forthcoming about. McKinney’s suggestion that Bush was in any way complicit remains nutty, and there is still no reason to think the president had any clue that the hijackers would fly planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Still, in retrospect, Shrum may well feel that he overdid it when he criticized a member of his own party.

No such pangs afflict the GOP.

[Clarification, May 22: Sullivan has informed Chatterbox that he is not a registered Republican. That, of course, only strengthens Chatterbox’s point.]