David Hogg, the telegenic 17-year-old who survived the shooting in Parkland, is not a crisis actor, an FBI plant, or the secret brainchild of a Soros-backed CNN plot. He’s a political advocate engaged in a political debate, and he should be treated as such.
Since the multiple murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Hogg has emerged as a sort of Schrödinger’s Pundit, whose status within the debate sits contingent upon his critics’ willingness to push back. The game being played with his testimony — by adults, not by Hogg — is as transparent as it is cynical. For ten days now, Hogg has been as permanent a fixture on the nation’s TV screens as anyone bar the president. In each appearance, he has been invited without reply to share his ideas on our public policy. This he has done, emphatically. Among the proposals that Hogg has advanced are that the most popular rifle in America be federally prohibited; that the NRA be regarded as a haven for “child murderers”; that Americans boycott Amazon, FedEx, and the state of Florida; and that Governor Rick Scott take responsibility for the failures of another elected official. In addition, Hogg has held a gun-control rally in New Jersey, slammed the president as a coward, criticized the federal response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, made comments in support of funding for wind and solar power, taken a pre-emptive stand on Florida’s imminent senatorial election, and suggested that, as a matter of general policy, cops cannot be expected to protect the citizenry if they believe they might be outgunned.
For this advocacy — and that’s what it is — Hogg has been feted as a key leader within a “mass movement” that is determined to reform America; he has been praised for his attempt to “force change”; he has been cast, including by himself, as a lion who refuses to back down; and, in some of the more cunning quarters of the left, he has been turned into a walking demonstration of the need to lower the voting age. At no point has anyone hosting him suggested that his relevance is limited to his capacity to describe his experience; rather, he has in every instance been asked to join a public political fight — a fight, remember, that relates to nothing less foundational than the American Bill of Rights.
And yet, when other Americans have seen fit to respond, Hogg’s defenders have cast him upon the instant in diametrically opposite terms: As an irrelevance; as a mere “kid”; as a grieving ornament who sits well outside of our national conversation. This is extraordinary. How obvious, one wonders, do his champions intend to make it that they are using him to launder their views? And how clearly must they reveal that, despite their protestations to the contrary, they in fact have no respect whatsoever for his agency?
Far from being “mean,” those contending with Hogg’s pronouncements are accepting that he has an opinion, and that it is worth countering.
In the last few days, a handful of people have begun to push back against the substance of Hogg’s views, and, in each case, have been met with the insistence that they should simply “ignore him” as they would ignore a tenth-grade book report. Yesterday, I criticized Hogg for his routine incoherence, and immediately encountered a host of apologists who submitted that to engage with his remonstrations was “mean” or “inappropriate” or an example of “punching down.” The political incentives behind this tactic are obvious, but, substantively, the line has it utterly backward. It is condescending to ignore somebody arguing about politics, not to take them on. Far from being “mean,” those contending with Hogg’s pronouncements are accepting that he has an opinion, and that it is worth countering — that is, they are doing exactly what Hogg’s boosters have asked: treating him as the leader of a movement. Could it be, perhaps, that those boosters don’t really mean what they are saying?
Or could it be, perhaps, that Hogg has become a liability and that his champions now regret having thrust him into the limelight? One certainly couldn’t blame them if they did, for Hogg is in fact a pretty poor advocate. And why, pray, would he be otherwise? Suffering through a terrible crime gives a person no special insight into its causes, and Hogg has no special insight into its causes — or, frankly, into anything else. He’s ignorant about basic civics; he’s liable to backward reasoning; and, unable as he is to synthesize the evolving talking points upon which he relies, he has increasingly come across as slippery. In perhaps his most embarrassing moment thus far, he shifted from arguing that the cop on duty who stood outside and did nothing while his classmates were slaughtered was correct to demur (not a great message, all told) to making the opposite case when he sensed an opportunity to lay the blame at the feet of Governor Scott — who, of course, had nothing to do with running the sheriff’s department responsible for failing to save his classmates. Demosthenes he is not.
Even worse has been Hogg’s attitude toward those who have had the temerity to disagree with him. Here, one suspects, he has been let down by those around him, the loudest of whom have evidently led him to believe that our complex political discourse can be circumvented by the blunt issuing of demands. The gun debate in America remains intractable, consisting not only of difficult legislative questions, but of elaborate constitutional, sociopolitical, historical, and criminal inquiries, too. For some reason, David Hogg has come to suppose that he can slice through this reality by issuing threats: Give me what I want, or I’ll stop using FedEx; give me what I want, or I won’t go back to school; give me what I want, or Florida’s economy gets it. And, by the way, I’m going to outlive you…
This, suffice it to say, is not how republics work, and whether he likes it or not, Hogg lives in a republic. There is no Angry Victim clause in our constitutional text.
David Hogg is an American, and he should speak as often and as loudly as he wishes. Moreover, if CNN believes that its present monomania will serve it well in the long run, it should continue to give him a platform. But there must be no inoculation for either party, nor must those who agree with the gun-control agenda attempt to shield its purveyors from rebuttal. Hogg did not choose to be involved in a school shooting; that, sadly, was beyond his control. But he has now chosen to play pundit on a topic of import to millions. And, in a free and robust nation, once that line is crossed, all bets are bound to be off.