BLAMING SOCIETY FIRST

Yesterday afternoon, Fox News brought on Newt Gingrich to discuss the school shooting in Cleveland, with predictable results. I don't have a link to the video or transcript, but Newt argued that the reason this happened is our depraved society, in which respect for authority has been eroded to the point where...well, I guess to the point where kids have so little respect for their teachers and parents that they'll try to kill their classmates, then commit suicide. If only this boy had been more afraid of getting grounded, this never would have happened.

This is nothing new for Newt; you may recall that he blamed the Virginia Tech shooting and the Columbine massacre on liberalism, as well as what might have been his all-time high point, the Susan Smith case. In 1994, Smith put her two kids in her car, then pushed it into a lake. Just before that year's congressional election, the Associated Press reported the following:

"I think the mother killing her two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we have to have change," [Gingrich] said. "I think people want to change and the only way you get change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days."

Classy. Oddly enough, Gingrich was silent on the Andrea Yates case, in which a Texas mother murdered her five children in 2001. It might have had something to do with the fact that Yates was, in addition to being mentally ill, a deeply religious person who claimed that God had instructed her to kill her children.

But here's my question: Does Newt really believe what he says on occasions like this? Not that society is depraved and kids don't have enough respect for authority - I'm sure he believes that. But does he really believe that if a child is so disturbed and desperate he'd commit or attempt a murder-suicide, all he needs is a good kick in the ass from a strong father figure? And aren't conservatives supposed to be advocates of "personal responsibility"? What's all this it's-all-society's-fault claptrap?

And this is the Republican party's most important "intellectual."

--Paul Waldman

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