The Nuge

The French philosopher, Voltaire, is often quoted as saying, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”  This was in response to a book, titled, The Three Impostors, that rejected any deities.  Voltaire’s argument was that society needs the idea of a supreme being to maintain order, a belief in an eternal policeman even when no human law enforcement is around.  L. Frank Baum presents a moment of having the truth revealed when a curtain is pulled down, exposing the humbug wizard.  The instruction to ignore the little fellow who used to be hidden—in the movie, not the book—is basically Voltaire’s idea.

This is akin to what stage magicians do, drawing our attention in one direction, while the real action is happening somewhere else.  Problems arise when the distractions we use to throw people off become either a fixation for ourselves or so irritating to the audience as to lose the point of the show.

Thus we have Ted Nugent re-elected to the board of directors of the NRA.  Whether he’s dancing on the edge of anti-Semitism, posting other forms of racism on his Facebook page, making jokes about Hillary Clinton being shot, or getting the attention of the Secret Service, Nugent keeps himself in the center of attention from both his fans and his detractors.

And here we’re presented with a question:  Is Nugent’s persona and reputation a benefit or a harm to gun rights?

The image an organization offers to the world is a touchy subject.  Consider the example of Brendan Eich, one-time CEO of Mozilla, who resigned after a controversy over his support of California’s ban on marriage equality.  Eich has been at the heart of the modern Internet, creating JavaScript and being one of the founders of a company that created a major competitor to Microsoft’s web browser, but in a world that cares only about what you’ve done lately, he became a target of protest, not just against him but also against Firefox, due to his politics.

What should disturb us, even if we ultimately find a resolution for ourselves, is the erasing line between a person’s private and public lives.  It’s easy enough to say that if my religion, politics, or personal relationships aren’t in keeping with my employer, the two of us can go our separate ways, but the reality is that with a social safety net that is more holes than net and a squishy economy, finding a new job is a tough proposition.  And we should think long and hard about whether we want for-profit corporations getting a say in their employees’ personal business.

But Mozilla is an odd affair, a non-profit thing that manages to have a tax burden for part of its work anyway.  The NRA is something else, entirely, a lobbying organization and interest group.  Unlike a business selling a product, the NRA exists to protect rights and promote the exercise of the same.  That being the case, the people involved are the message.

I’m of two minds with regard to Nugent and the NRA.  In one sense, he serves as a distraction.  Anti-rights people focus their attention on the Motor City Madman, leaving Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation free to work behind the curtain and in the courts.  At the same time, Nugent is the stereotype of the gun owner that advocates of control believe in.  For the sake of public relations, it might be for the best if he would put some distance between himself and the best known defender of gun rights.

The best answer would be for Nugent to have a true conversion to the cause of all rights, but short of that, the NRA has the opportunity here to remind people that gun rights are only a part of a much larger package.  Gun rights act as a protection for each one of us to speak our minds, and Nugent, as controversial and objectionable as his stunts are, has to be free when it comes to speech.  If he isn’t, no one is—just as we say with the rights to own and carry firearms.  In this way, the Nuge is a test case.  Can a free society accept the freedom of each of us and remain free—and also remain civil?  I hope so, while also hoping that some among us will achieve greater enlightenment.

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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