Laslo Boyd: Hogan wades into national politics

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At first glance, it seemed like a reasonable statement, very much in keeping with the general image that Larry Hogan has projected since becoming governor.  Who, after all, would argue with the assertion that gun control is “not the only solution” to the kind of tragedy that occurred in San Bernadino, California last week?    The answer, equally obvious, is that no serious person has actually contended that it is the “only” solution.

The second look at Hogan’s comment makes it seem more like callous political pandering than a thoughtful contribution to a desperately needed national dialogue.  Maryland’s governor may not be using the inflammatory rhetoric of a Ted Cruz or a Ben Carson.  Nevertheless, he is certainly signing on with the Republican mainstream in dismissing any and all efforts to limit guns in response to a public health epidemic in this country.

The GOP position is fundamentally dishonest and it’s unfortunate to see Hogan join in so glibly.  What they are really saying is that any limitations on guns should be eliminated and the “right to bear arms” should allow open carry in schools, day care centers, movie theaters, places of work, and anyplace other than where various candidates and office holders are.  Try taking a gun into the U.S. Capitol or Maryland’s Statehouse.  If good guys with guns really make us safer, wouldn’t that be true in Larry Hogan’s office as well?

You can find neither consistent reasoning nor a shred of honest concern for solving the problem of mass murders from the NRA, Second Amendment extremists or pandering politicians.  Unfortunately, there are lots of responsible gun owners and Second Amendment advocates who have allowed their moderate positions to be hijacked by far right zealots who, in the guise of patriotism, are doing great damage to American civil society.

Look at the reactions and comments in the aftermath of recent events.  The Planned Parenthood murders were met with a focus on mental illness—certainly appropriate—and some disgusting observations applauding the attack as deserved.  The actions of the crazy guy in Colorado Springs wouldn’t have been nearly so deadly if he hadn’t possessed an instrument designed solely for killing people.  Meanwhile, where is the support for increased funding to detect and treat mental illness?

The San Bernadino massacre brought the hypocrisy to a new level.  Gun rights defenders were quick to say that the guns used in the attack were purchased legally in a state with relatively tough gun laws.  No one has ever argued that any of the proposed remedies will prevent all violent incidents, but that doesn’t stop gun fanatics from arguing that this most recent incident demonstrates that gun laws don’t work.

By that logic, we should stop worrying about controlling our southern border since neither of the perpetrators came into California from Mexico.  Similarly, we can relax about the danger of Syrian refugees posing a threat to national security since the shooters in San Bernadino were not part of the flood of people escaping across Europe from the turmoil of the Middle East.  Convoluted logic can be made to work either way.

The dishonesty of the pro-gun lobby was highlighted again in the aftermath of the 14 California deaths when its minions in Congress refused to put limits on the ability of suspected terrorists, including those on no-fly lists, to buy guns.  Their reasoning, apparently, was that occasionally a person gets put on that list by mistake.  Is that really a greater problem than allowing easy access to guns by people who have been identified as threats to this country?

Unfortunately, the ridiculousness of the predominant Republican position on guns is both an example of and a metaphor for the dysfunctional nature of American politics today.  Its closest relative is the extreme rhetoric and violent behavior that is a fundamental part of the ultra conservative stance on abortion. 

Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, abortion has been legal in this country.  That hasn’t stopped opponents from attacking, both verbally and literally, clinics, providers, and women seeking counseling and other medical services as well as abortions.   The phrase has certainly been overused, but to refer to a “war on abortion” seems entirely appropriate.   In fact, those conducting the war would probably take pride in that description.

This is the bed that Larry Hogan just climbed into when he made his recent statement about the shooting in San Bernadino.  Like his ill considered and legally meaningless comment about not wanting Syrian refugees to be sent to Maryland, his remark about guns is ultimately an unforced error that tells us a lot about how Larry Hogan wants to be seen in the political world.

In the first instance, Hogan is pandering to the far right wing of his party in Maryland.  He may be riding high in the public opinion polls right now, but he runs the risk of alienating a lot of other voters in the State who want to see moderation, compromise and problem solving rather than posturing. 

Hogan seems to be taking seriously the news accounts of his being one of the most popular governors in the country.  The gun commentary was surely meant in part for a national audience.   Perhaps he sees a place for himself in a Chris Christie Administration in Washington in 2017, but his “bro-gov” still has a long way to go for that to happen.

Hogan is a bit of an enigma, perhaps even to himself.  He has done a good job of appearing to be moderate—dazzling the New York Times’ Frank Bruni—and is unarguably popular today.   But by joining the national political debate, he takes on a responsibility for being a moderate voice for his party at a time when so many are using inflammatory and divisive rhetoric.  Will he support his party’s nominee if it’s Donald Trump?  Will he speak out against the extremists currently on the campaign trail?  His credentials as a moderate will be tested by how he responds in the coming months.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.