The National Rifle Association pre-empted Wednesday's White House announcement on the results of Vice President Joe Biden's task force on gun violence prevention by releasing a controversial ad that targets the president's family. Amid a widespread backlash, White House press secretary Jay Carney offered a statement: "Most Americans agree that a president's children should not be used as pawns in a political fight. But to go so far as to make the safety of the president's children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly."
What got the NRA's back up, in such controversial fashion? Well, the word on the street was that the announcement on what President Barack Obama would propose as sensible reforms to existing gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting would include a stronger background check system, a ban on high-capacity magazines and a renewed effort to pass an assault weapons ban. Naturally, the NRA, which lobbies on behalf of gun manufacturers, is not happy about any of this and released a video Tuesday criticizing Obama for being a "hypocrite" and an "elitist."
And why is that? Well, here's how the video puts it:
"Are the president's kids more important than yours?" the ad asks. "Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?"
The ad continues: "Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he is just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security."
Well, let's unpack this a bit. First of all, I don't imagine that Obama's opinion of his kids factors into their receiving Secret Service protection. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he thinks his kids are just swell! But the reason they receive protection is because there simply happen to be more people in the world who want to kidnap and/or murder President Obama's children than there are people who want to kidnap and/or murder everybody else's children. I'm not saying that everyone else's kids aren't terrific, just that they aren't at the center of any number of potential threats to our national security.
Of course, I am similarly skeptical of the ability of armed guards to protect schools, but I'll tell you what: I could definitely get behind stationing a quartet of Secret Service-level guards at every public school in America, if only because that would create thousands of new jobs. But I do not think the NRA truly wants a "fair share of security" on the level that Sasha and Malia Obama receive. The NRA is certainly not going to get a big spending bill that dedicates money to public schools passed through the House of Representatives. I think they will settle for, "Let's just have the school custodian be cannon fodder, and call it a day."
Over at The Daily Beast, David Frum just went off, saying that "the NRA's sneering references to the president's family are beyond the pale":
As the makers of the NRA ad should know, and probably do know, the First Family has come under years of racially coded attack for their "uppityism," as Rush Limbaugh phrased it. This latest attack ad looks to many like only one more attempt to enflame an ancient American wound.
Generally speaking, a president's family should not be subject to political criticism. That rule was honorably upheld in the case of the Bush daughters, who grew into fine young people, and the rule should be same for the Obama daughters -- especially if it's true, as has been widely reported, that this first family has faced a unique degree of threat.
Katie Glueck rounds up some more reaction, including former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs slamming the ad as the sort "that somebody made about 2:00 in the morning after one too many drinks, and no one stopped it in the morning." But the more significant reactions may be the ones coming from other media figures:
"Trying to figure out what NRA is thinking with web ad targeting Obama girls. Who thinks that's appropriate? #mitchellreports," offered MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.
Ron Fournier of National Journal Group called the ad "low" in a tweet.
In a follow-up tweet, Fournier added, "'Has the NRA Finally Gone Too Far?' My take: Hell, yes." He included a link to a post that further took the NRA to task. "The ad is indisputably misleading, and is arguably a dangerous appeal to the base instincts of gun-rights activists," he wrote.
This ad has not been the NRA's most successful PR outing, it would seem. So how are they dealing with the backlash? As NBC News' Mike O'Brien reported, an NRA spokesman has words for the critics, saying, "Whoever thinks the ad is about [President] Obama's daughters are missing the point completely or they're trying to change the subject."
Topping the list of the people who think the ad is about the president's daughters are the people who made the ad for the NRA. Topping the list of the people who are trying to change the subject is that NRA spokesman.
Oh well, so much for having the courage of one's convictions.
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