What Cubin Meant: Reader Entries
They did better than Cubin herself.
Since writing last week about Rep. Barbara Cubin's possibly racist (and definitely unfinished) remarks on the House floor, Chatterbox has learned that Rep. Cubin is famous in Wyoming for her non sequiturs. In the past, these have tended to be sexual. Cubin once startled a group of GOP donors during a speech on energy policy by interjecting, "I know what Victoria's Secret is. She's a slut." During the Florida presidential recount in 2000, Cubin complained at a Republican leadership meeting, "We are bending over and taking it from the Democrats." (When a colleague objected to her language, she replied, "Quiet down, or you'll get a spanking.") Cubin's most notorious gaffe—until now—was the Incident of the Penis-Shaped Cookies, wherein Cubin distributed (but did not, she insisted to Roll Call, bake) cookies in the shape of penises to several male colleagues in the Wyoming legislature.
One well-remembered Cubin non sequitur was not about sex and could reasonably be labeled racist. She said it during the 1995 welfare-reform debate. Arguing the uncontroversial point that welfare creates dependency, Cubin found herself comparing welfare recipients to pen-reared wolves: "Just like with any animal of the species," she said, "when you take away their freedom, they can't provide for themselves."
This is all by way of saying that Chatterbox readers faced no small hurdle in finishing the thought Cubin was unable to on the House floor—a thought that's been denounced as racist in a Washington Post editorial and on Joshua Micah Marshall's "Talking Points" Weblog and defended as nonracist by James Taranto on OpinionJournal.com. The contest challenge was to finish Cubin's statement "in such a way as to render it a ringing declaration against racial stereotyping." Chatterbox promised to award the "least nonsensical entry." Let's look at the submissions.
We start with Cubin herself. Chatterbox complained in his earlier item that Cubin never explained how she'd intended to finish that sentence. This, he has since learned, is incorrect. She didn't explain herself on the House floor, but she did, on April 10, explain herself to the Casper Star-Tribune. Before we proceed, here's a brief reminder of how it started (she was talking on the House floor about a proposed ban on selling guns to drug addicts):
My sons are 25 and 30. They are blond-haired and blue-eyed. One amendment today said we could not sell guns to anybody under drug treatment. So, does that mean if you go into a black community, you cannot sell a gun to any black person, or does that mean because my …
[we now proceed to Cubin's Star-Tribune quote]
"… sons look like the Columbine [High School] killers … they [should] be prevented from buying guns?"
Here, Cubin meets one of Chatterbox's criteria, but not the other. The statement is not racist. It is a denunciation of stereotyping—of blacks who might wrongly be suspected of being drug addicts and of whites who might wrongly be suspected of being mass murderers. Unfortunately, Cubin's entry flunks Chatterbox's second criterion, which is that the entry make more sense than other entries Chatterbox received. It does not.
Cubin was denouncing the no-drug-addicts amendment on the grounds that, while not in itself discriminatory, it would encourage white people, inadvertently, to behave in discriminatory fashion against blacks, as white people are already (and wrongly) predisposed to do. This part hangs together, sort of. Clearly, though, in enforcing such an amendment, the government could prosecute only those who knowingly sold guns to drug addicts. Even a bigot who sincerely believed all blacks to be drug addicts would grasp that no government prosecution could rest on such an assumption.
Cubin's logic goes seriously off the rails when she brings up the parallel example of her sons getting stereotyped as mass murderers. It isn't parallel at all! A parallel example would show her sons getting stereotyped as drug addicts. Nobody (at least that day) was proposing a law making it illegal to sell guns to mass murderers. So why bring up Columbine at all? It makes no sense.
Reader submissions tended to demonstrate tighter logic. Chatterbox categorized them by hypothesis, and then selected the best (or those submitted earliest). Please note that anything nasty that's said about Rep. Cubin or her sons in what follows is intended to be fanciful and/or humorous, and is understood not to be truthful. Our readers are not trying to figure out what Rep. Cubin's home life is like. They are merely attempting to impose logic where none exists.
Hypothesis No. 1: Cubin is racist. From reader Nye Thomas:
" ... or does that mean because my nanny is Mexican, you could not sell a gun to her? What kind of a world is it where the government bans gun sales to entire ethnic groups just because the majority of them are drug addicts? This is stereotyping at its worst."
Chatterbox rules this out of order because it is racist. (It is not true that a majority of blacks, or a majority of Mexicans, are drug addicts.)
Hypothesis No. 2: Cubin is insane. From reader Tim Carvell:
" ... or does that mean because my Balogna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R, my Balogna has a—[points dreamily into middle distance] Look! A Unicorn!" [She passes out, later pleads both exhaustion and dehydration, and asks innocently, "Did I say anything weird right before I fainted?"]
Chatterbox rules this out of order because anyone this crazy would get more coverage than Cubin has.
Hypothesis No. 3: Cubin is saying the "no drug dealer" provision is arbitrary and unfair. From reader Rick Kirkham:
" ... or does that mean because my sons are white, you cannot sell a gun to any white person, or does that mean because my mother is ill with rheumatism, you cannot sell a gun to a person with rheumatism, or does that mean because a person is under drug treatment you cannot sell a gun to such a person? I know it only explicitly says the latter, but once we start profiling and discriminating on the basis of stereotypes, where do we stop? All such profiling is wrong. It is just as wrong to stereotype a drug user as someone who cannot handle a gun safely as it would be to stereotype a black person as someone who cannot handle a gun safely."
The internal logic here is very good. James Taranto offered this same hypothesis on OpinionJournal.com. When you think seriously, though, about what she would be saying here—i.e., it's as wrong to make assumptions about drug abusers as it is to make assumptions about black people—it makes no sense at all. We have laws to prevent discrimination based on race. We do not have laws—and never will have laws—to prevent discrimination based on whether somebody abuses drugs.
Hypothesis No. 4: Cubin is demonstrating the law's random absurdity. From reader Dea Henrich:
" ... or does that mean because my sons have blond hair and blue eyes that they are black? Does that mean no one in Congress can buy a gun because we're all being treated for drugs? No, of course not. All these things are ridiculous, as is this law."
This is creative, and appealingly French, but really, you could say this about any law. It's not an argument.
Hypothesis No. 5: Cubin's sons will suffer reverse discrimination. From reader Earl Parrish:
" ... or does that mean because my sons are white they will be denied weapons to show that the system is nondiscriminatory just as little old ladies are searched at the airports for weapons and bombs?"
This is excellent. But by this logic, the amendment would discriminate against everybody. By definition, no law can discriminate against everybody.
Hypothesis No. 6: Cubin's sons won't be able to get drug treatment. From reader Mark Hubbard.
" ... or does that mean because mysons own guns, they can't be treated for drug problems?"
No law can be enforced retroactively.
Hypothesis No. 7: Cubin's sons will have to buy guns for black people. From reader Ernesto Rios:
" ... or does that mean because mysons know the three families that make up the black community in Cheyenne, they will have to buy it for them."
Ineligible because it's built on the racist assumption that blacks are drug addicts.
And the winner is…
Hypothesis No. 8: Cubin's sons would not be suspected of being drug addicts, and that's unfair. From reader Eugene Volokh:
" … or does that mean because my sons look like they aren't drug users, they wouldn't be harassed when other people might be? Because that's the problem—I do not believe in stereotyping anyone, any time, ever, for anything, but when you've got a law like this on the books, people will stereotype potential customers based on what they think a drug user looks like."
This entry is not racist, is decently logical, and actually returns to the subject at hand, which is the amendment banning the sale of guns to drug addicts. It's still faulty on the grounds that someone would have to knowingly sell to drug addicts in order to be prosecuted. But Chatterbox likes its elegance.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.