I miss Tom Lehrer.
Okay, Tom Lehrer is still alive and well. He’s nearing age 90, enjoying good health and retirement in Santa Cruz, California.
For those too young to have known and loved Tom Lehrer, Lehrer was the Harvard mathematics lecturer who had a brief, blazing career as a writer of satirical songs, such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” the “Vatican Rag,” “The Elements,” and “So Long (I’m off to drop the bomb).”
Lehrer quit show business at the peak of his career. An apocryphal story, which Lehrer later denied, was that when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, Lehrer was purported to have commented, “Political satire is now obsolete.” I would guess that we Lehrer fans would say, “If he didn’t say it, he should have.”
If Lehrer were to return to the satirical song racket he’d have an abundance of things to sing about. We might say that it’s a “target-rich environment.”
Alas, last week that target-rich environment began with another target-rich environment, an audience of 22,000 people attending a big outdoor country music show in Las Vegas. A lone gunman, Stephen Paddock, with no known reason for doing so, managed to take some 24 firearms into his Las Vegas hotel room and when country music star Jason Aldean, started his act, Paddock broke his hotel windows and started spraying bullets on the crowd.
Paddock committed suicide before law enforcement officers were able to arrest him. Among the firearms found in his room were many semiautomatic rifles that had been converted to fully-automatic.
The purchase of fully automatic firearms is tightly regulated, however it is relatively easy—and legal—to go on the internet and purchase devices that convert semiautomatic AR rifles to virtual machine guns.
Two days after the event, the death toll was up to 59, though additional deaths were expected, and over 400 people were hospitalized. It’s rated as the worst mass-shooting ever.
And what would a modern version of Tom Lehrer sing about?
We might start with televangelist Pat Robertson, who regularly comes up with statements ripe for satirical comment, who blamed the mass shooting on disrespect for authority, “There is profound disrespect of our president…All the way up and down the line: disrespect.”
Senator John Thune (R-SD) said victims should have been more careful. “As someone said—get small.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press that it wasn’t appropriate to talk about policy so soon after the tragedy. “There will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place we’re in at this moment.”
Even President Trump’s statement regarding the tragedy was a target of criticism. David Frum, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said Trump’s comments were “steeped in hypocrisy.” He added, “He is the least outwardly religious president of modern times, the president least steeped in scripture. For him to offer the consolations of God and of faith after mass bloodletting is to invite derision.”
For days after the shooting, the National Rifle Association maintained a code of silence, with no public statements or tweets, and even delaying, for one week, a series of political ads for Virginia’s gubernatorial election. Observers, however, were expecting that the NRA would likely come out with statements similar to what they said after the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives did, however, elect to delay action on a bill that would loosen restrictions on purchasing gun silencers. Aside from that, individual members primarily offered “thoughts and prayers.”
ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel commented on politicians offering thoughts and prayers, “They should be praying. They should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country, because it’s so crazy.”
Maybe, on second thought, it’s just as well that Tom Lehrer isn’t writing new satirical songs about these events. A government that simply lets one tragedy after another happen with total inaction is too far-gone for mere satire.
It’s time for We the People to send a message.