The vice president has been central to this charade. Joe Biden is Obama’s vice president in the sense that Constance Lloyd was Oscar Wilde’s wife. There is perhaps a little genuine warmth between the two, but Biden’s primary appeal to Obama is his public utility. Joe Biden softens and makes more attractive to the public the parts of the president’s persona that are less palatable: his professorial air, his tendency to lecture, his aloofness. Biden sounds at home discussing car factories and taxes and middle-class aspiration in a way that the president never will. The idea was to give Good Old Joe the gun remit. If Nixon could go to China, Biden could go to the NRA. Right? Certainly, the vice president would never call Americans “bitter clingers.”
On the contrary. In 2008, campaigning among Virginians at the annual fish fry of the United Mine Workers of America, Biden told the crowd in his best folksy, “G”-less yell that “Barack Obama ain’t taking my shotguns, so don’t buy that malarkey. Don’t buy that malarkey. They’re gonna — they’re gonna start peddling that to you. I got two. If he tries to fool with my Beretta, he’s got a problem.” Who better, then, to tell America that Obama now wants to legislate?
Who better, too, to form the backdrop at the proposal’s unveiling than a caboodle of children, whose vague letters about a “better world” were read out by the president at the start as if they were the Federalist Papers? This, together with the endless repetition of the word “children,” is a despicable trick; an inappropriate, manipulative, and mawkish affront to reason that highlights everything that is wrong with legislating while emotions run — or, rather, are kept — high. Can you conceive of the outrage that would arise should the National Rifle Association or the Republican House attempt to sell a national concealed-carry law while standing in front of children who had been saved by firearms? Or the indignation that might be visited upon a senator who labelled a firearms-liberalization bill the “Stop Our Sweet Babies from Being Killed by Bad Men Act”? Good. That is how you should feel about what happened this morning. The constant appeal to “the children” is a calculated attack on your intellect and an attempt to preempt your dissent. And, ultimately, it is a means of shepherding you away from your rightful position — as a master of the state in full possession of your liberties — and toward infantilization and servility.
Who, gun controllers ask, could oppose such a thing? Who could look into victims’ eyes and criticize these proposals? What shape of monster is against the children? Well, let me raise my hand. I am the sort of monster who could oppose it, and I will. I am very much “against the children” if this is what they ask of me. And I am against the vice president if this is what he asks of me, too. This has been a cynical pageant from start to finish.
At the end of Monty Python’s sketch, the terrified barber pulls out a tape machine, onto which he has recorded idle chatter and the sound of scissors clipping. For a minute or so, this fools his customer into believing that he is actually getting a haircut. Joe Biden’s phony commission might have convinced some Americans that the Obama administration was acting in good faith, too. But anybody who has watched it go about its business over the last month will realize that it has been merely snipping in the air.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.