Wrong Point, Right Target
Chris Christie's sound political instincts were on display Thursday when he savaged the National Rifle Association's ad (video, below) attacking President Obama for being skeptical about the recommendation of the nation's pre-eminent pro-crime organization that armed guards be placed in every school. The New Jersey governor, gearing up for his re-election bid, asserted "I think it's awful to bring public figures' children into the political debate. They don't deserve to be there. And I think for any of us who are public figures, you see that kind of ad and you cringe."
Christie was merely one of the many voices (sarcasm alert) going out on the figurative political limb by defending children of the President of the United States. Joe Scarborough's television wife, Mika Brzezinski, maintained "I think some of the people who run that thing are sick. I really do. I think they are sick in the head." Presidential press secretary Jay Carney succinctly expressed the widespread sentiment when he stated "Americans agree that a president's children should not be used as pawns in a political fight. But to go so far as to make the safety of the president's children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly."
A blogger on the Weekly Standard website disagreed, contending "According to a scan of the school's online faculty-staff directory, Sidwell has a security department made up of at least 11 people. Many of those are police officers, who are presumably armed."
So are Christie, Brzezinski, and Carney right and the NRA and the Weekly Standard contributor wrong?
No, no, no, yes, and yes.
Brzezinski, of course, is flailing. NRA officials aren't "sick"; maybe tasteless and most assuredly wrong, but hardly mentally ill. The sure-footed Christie and Carney recognize, though, that no one ever lost a vote defending children- or any family members- from criticism, however well-grounded and mild that criticism may be. Politicians under personal attack know their ace in the hole is some variant of "I don't care for myself, but to drag my wife into this..."
And no, the NRA is not attacking Obama's children but instead labeling him a hypocrite for opposing for the American people what he demands for his own children. The ad rhetorically asks "Are the President's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed guards in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?" If accurate, the second is a reasonable question.
The ad is far less cruel than it is deceptive. The President's children are more important than ours. When our children are the victims of a crime, it is a personal, and family, tragedy. If the children of the President of the United States were seriously harmed in a criminal attack, it would be treated, understandably, as a national calamity.
The NRA spot not only feeds on our righteous indignation that any children may be considered more important than ours. It also, presumably knowingly, implies that armed guards are routinely stationed at the school of Sasha and Malia. Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker column at The Washington Post, explains that the NRA has on its website a longer, four-minute video presentation which makes clear the organization is referring to armed guards rather than Secret Service protection. He adds
... the online directory for Sidwell Friends lists 11 people as working in the Security Department. Five are listed as “special police officer,” while two are listed as “on call special police officer,” which presumably means they do not work full-time. The directory also lists two weekend shift supervisors, one security officer and the chief of security.
Under the District of Columbia General Order 308.7, a special police officer is a private commissioned police officer with arrest powers in the area that he or she protects. They may also be authorized to bear firearms — but it is not required. Security officers, by contrast, cannot carry firearms and in effect are watchmen. So five to seven security personnel in theory could be licensed to carry firearms.
But we spoke to parents who said they had never seen a guard on campus with a weapon. And Ellis Turner, associate head of Sidwell Friends, told us emphatically: “Sidwell Friends security officers do not carry guns.”
Sidwell Friends, by the way, has two distinct campuses, a lower school in Bethesda and a middle and upper schools in Washington. So given shift rotations and three different schools, it appears that the 11 “armed guards” is really just one or two unarmed guards per school at a time.
Long ago, before organized crime was decentralized and spread to ethnic groups other than Italian-Americans, the Justice Department pursued* the murderous La Cosa Nostra through the Internal Revenue Service. That tactic, for the most part, worked. So go ahead, attack the National Rifle Association because they're mean to the President's children. It might prove part of a successful strategy to counteract, even undermine, a destructive, dishonest, and thoroughly reprehensible organization.
*too little, too late for President John F. Kennedy, unfortunately