The American Principle

Economist Paul Krugman has written an editorial for The New York Times, titled, “The Pastrami Principle,” in which he uses a Twitter exchange between Jeb Bush and Bill de Blasio.  In February, Bush tweeted a picture of a handgun he had recently acquired in an effort to save his sinking campaign, captioned “America,” and the mayor of New York City responded with a photograph of a pastrami sandwich, using the same caption.

Krugman is concerned about the dispute between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over primary delegates and what part of the electorate supports which candidate.  The Sanders campaign has pointed out that Clinton’s support so far has been concentrated in the south, in his view a group of more conservative voters.  To Krugman, this ignores the enthusiasm for Clinton among African Americans, thereby being divisive about who are the real Americans in the same way that Bush and de Blasio did.

But Krugman is doing exactly what he accuses others of doing when he claims that showing a picture of a handgun is an expression of “the common Republican theme that only certain people—white, gun-owning, rural or small-town citizens—embody the true spirit of the nation.”

Motives are always easy to ascribe and harder to prove, though it is safe to say that Bush was trying to appeal to those of us who support gun rights.  In that way, he was playing a game that politicians on both sides of the aisle have played—John Kerry holding a shotgun comes to mind.

As gun owners and rights supporters, though, we have to consider the claim being made that a picture of a firearm is itself divisive.  Gun ownership is tilted south and west in this country.  It’s an interesting question to ask whether the low rates in New York—state and city—for example are due to a lack of demand or to the laws that make ownership difficult.  However, my focus here is to say that Krugman is missing what it means to be an American.

Showing a handgun in a tweet may be a good way to draw in gun owners, but is it necessarily exclusionary?  If presidential candidate John Smith is a Cubs fan and candidate Jane Doe never misses a Cowboys game, does that mean either of them would not be good leaders for people in this nation who follow other teams—or no team?  Does the mayor’s tweet of a pastrami sandwich declare vegans to be something other than New Yorkers?

The difficulty in identifying a simple American principle is that we are not a nation established on the basis of ancestry, religion, or compact geography.  The founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—make it clear that our principle is one of freedom, of acceptance of ways of life that some particular majority doesn’t practice.  The argument made by gun control advocates too often sounds like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s claim that the NRA holds an insurrectionist philosophy.  At times, we who support gun rights do take the opposite stance that anyone who isn’t with us is against us.  The better approach is to say that freedom as a grounding principle means that we each get to do as we please, so long as we don’t prevent others from making their own choices.

An American can eat bean sprouts or pastrami, can live in New York or on a ranch in Montana, can decide never to touch a gun or to own a large collection.  As Krugman states in the end of his article, “we’re all real Americans.”  If he means that, he and I are in agreement.  But the implication of what he concludes has to be carried out—we have to be free to be different for America to work.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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