Political virtue-signaling

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on May 2, 2016

On Sunday, the San Luis Obispo Tribune published my latest column on the Democrats vying to replace retiring Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) this fall. In the proposed headline and text of the originally submitted column, I used the phrase "political virtue-signaling." My use doesn't quite match the urban dictionary definition, instead I would define it as the use of canned phrases and meaningless platitudes to signal to the public with whom you ally politically.

It didn't make it through the editing process, but it was such a good turn of phrase that I wanted to use it.

It’s been a long time since I last interviewed candidates for the congressional district that encompasses Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. As a reporter at the Lompoc Record, I actually remember interviewing Capps' husband, Walter, when he first ran for the seat she now occupies.

All I remember about that interview was that it was on a Sunday, and that they were two hours late.

When I set out to write the column, I was thinking that I'd touch on a few hot-button issues over the course of a 10-minute phone conversation and that would be that. My phone conversations with Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Farmer/Actor William Ostrander ran for more than 30 minutes, and there was little chance of all the topics we touched upon making it into a 700- to 800- word column that ended up running more than 900 words anyway. I appreciate the Tribune's willingness to cut me some slack on that this week.

Unlike when I interviewed Walter Capps more than two decades ago as a reporter, I didn't need to be neutral in how I approached issues and I wasn't required to be a mere stenographer. I challenged statements made by the candidates and point out inconsistencies in a fashion generally not seen in modern political reporting—at least, not when Democrats are the subjects.

The column focuses exclusively on gun control, and there's even more on that topic here. I want to take the opportunity to add further evidence to my assertion that Democrats gun-control rhetoric is ill-informed and merely a way of political virtue-signalling to like-minded liberals.

On her website with her 10 point plan for reducing "gun violence," Schneider further demonstrates her weak grasp of guns and current gun laws. I could do a number on all 10 points, but in the interests of time, I'll consider just two.

Schneider’s #5 point is amusing, but unsurprising. She wants to limit the number of firearms someone can purchase. Not unexpected from a Democrat. She also vows that: “In Congress, I will work on making gun trafficking a federal crime so that we can develop effective ways to further de-incentivize and punish these criminals.”

And she can claim success before ever taking office, since gun-trafficking is already a federal crime. Just ask former state Democrat Sen. Leland Yee.

Schneider’s #7 point to reduce gun violence also caught my eye. Schneider applauds SB707, authored by state Sen. Lois Wolk (D.-Davis) that removed the exemption in state law that allowed people with a concealed carry license to carry on school campuses.

This legislation was necessary, according to state Democrats, because no concealed carrier in the history of the state had ever shot up a school.

I asked Schneider about a bill offered by state Republicans this session that would’ve re-instated the exception if the concealed carrier also had a valid domestic violence restraining order against a former spouse or significant other. Currently, men who wish to do harm to women know there’s one place they don’t have a gun to protect themselves: at a school.

I could tell that Schneider was torn by these competing concerns: Barring firearms from schools and colleges versus the safety of women threatened by men.

In the end, she came down on the side of barring firearms from campuses. She said it was possible the woman would be disarmed by her attacker anyway. A not uncommon rationalization to requiring that some women suffer for the greater good.

Ladies, remember which party it is that thinks you're a bunch of delicate flowers who can't defend yourselves and you'll just get yourself hurt if you try.

Carbajal’s site defines a sensible gun law as “banning high-capacity ammunition purchases.” In my questions to him, I specifically asked what that phrase means. He did not answer, instead offering the mealy-mouthed and meaningless political virtue-signalling that is so common in today's politics.

Here are my questions on gun control to Carbajal.

  1. During the candidate forum last week you said Americans shouldn't be able to purchase semi-automatic weapons. When your opponent Bill Ostrander said that there was a difference between semi-automatic weapons and assault weapons, you said that wasn't true; they are the same. What is an assault weapon?
  2. The M1 Garand and M1 Carbine used in WWII and Korea are semi-automatic weapons, but few people classify them as "assault weapons." Are they?
  3. The vast majority of handguns that are not revolvers are semi-automatic. Should Americans (and all these questions presuppose that the purchaser is legally allowed to purchase the firearm under current law, i.e. not a felon, never had a domestic violence charge, over the age of 18, or 21 for handguns, etc.) be allowed to purchase a semi-automatic handgun? Or handguns at all?
  4. Your site states that you support "banning high-capacity ammunition purchases." What is that?
  5. What do you believe the 2nd Amendment allows?

Here's Carbajal's complete written answer to my questions.

Gun violence has without a doubt become an epidemic in our country - some stories become front page news like the attack in our own community of Isla Vista in 2010 and other go virtually unreported, like my sister's own suicide using a firearm. It is a constitutional right to bear arms in this country and I support that right, however there is nothing in the Second Amendment that precludes us from taking reasonable restrictions on the sale of military-grade weapons or restricting the capacity of extended ammunition clips.

We need to take issue with the horrendous level of gun violence experienced everyday in our country. California is one state that has taken considerable action on expanding universal background checks for the purchase of firearms and I believe that measure should be extended throughout the country. I believe the government should hold straw purchasers accountable for the sale of illegal firearms and close loopholes in our laws to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, domestic abusers and the mentally ill. It is outrageous that people on the terrorism no fly list can buy a gun. We need to address this glaring safety issue immediately.

Even after he's been asked about some of his non-sensical anti-gun agitprop, given a second opportunity, he still comes up with "extended ammunition clips."

For any Democrats who may be reading, let me help.

These are ammunition clips.

At top, an ammunition clip for 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition, commonly used in SKS and AK-47 rifles. Below, clips for an M1 Garand chambered in .30-06.

This is a magazine.

A 10-round magazine for an AR-15 style rifle chambered in 5.56.

When I talked to William Ostrander on this subject our conversation on this subject took a rather convoluted route.

As I mentioned in my column, Ostrander just wants to ban "assault weapons," not guns that are used for hunting. When pressed to actually define what exactly he wanted to ban, the conversation took a turn.

Ostrander accused me of getting in the weeds and trying to muddy the waters, when I was trying to do the exact opposite. He pointed out that there have been over 330,000 "gun violence deaths" over the past decade.

This formulation, "gun violence deaths," is not an uncommon one for Democrats. Included in this statistic are murders, suicides and justifiable homicides. Want an example of a justifiable homicide? How about Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whose name was among those read as a victim of gun violence at a Mayors Against Illegal Guns event.

When I pointed out that the majority of those deaths are suicides. Suddenly I didn't care about suicides. Most gun suicides are committed not with assault rifles (which is where we started out this conversation) but handguns.

I also asked Ostrander if gun violence deaths had risen or declined over the past decade. Note that the idea that we have an "epidemic" of gun violence was something every one of the Democrats claim is occurring, despite the fact that the statistics don't bear that out.

Ostrander offered that some places they'd gone up and some they'd gone down. He highlighted Connecticut, which he said had passed some commonsense gun laws as a place they'd gone down. In places like the president's home town of Chicago, they'd gone up.

I asked what the trend was nationwide? At which point Ostrander accused me of cherry-picking. Because choosing a state and a city and saying the evidence is contradictory isn't cherry-picking, but asking for the nationwide trend is.

For the record, you can get the numbers for the past 10 years worth of data—from 2005-2014—here and here. Note that the trend is steadily downward and also that homicides from all types of rifles, not just "assault weapons" has been less than 500 a year for a decade. During the same period the sales of guns has skyrocketed.


During every election cycle, Pro-life Republicans are consistently asked by the media if they still oppose abortion even in the cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother is at stake. I think those are fair questions to ask pro-life politicians.

But there are questions about the other extreme on the "pro-choice" side that never get asked.

Should there be any limit at all on the right to an abortion? Or is the current regime of at any time during the pregnancy for any reason something you support?

I didn't ask Schneider about her abortion views, since she's a former staffer for Planned Parenthood, I didn't think anything interesting would come of it.

My questions to Carbajal were these:

  1. You and the other Democrats reaffirmed your support for Roe v. Wade. As you know, current law on abortion effectively allows for abortion on demand for any reason at any time up until the moment of birth. Is there any restriction that you would put on that?
  2. Is it OK for a woman to seek and receive an abortion for a full-term baby (that would survive outside the womb) because the baby is the wrong gender?
  3. If a woman goes to an abortion facility and receives an abortion, but the baby survives, what medical care should the baby receive?

Carbajal's response to those questions was this:

I believe that decisions about women’s health should be personal ones between women and their families. If elected, I will fight to ensure women continue to have access to contraception and defend a woman’s right to seek safe and legal abortion.

This is political virtue-signaling. I made no mention of contraception (unless Carbajal believes that abortion is contraception—a politically unwise position to take), yet Carbajal suggests that Republicans want to ban contraception somehow.

When I suggested to Ostrander that viable babies could be killed in late-term abortions for any reason he said I was being ridiculous. Ostrander also said he'd never heard the case of notorious abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell and refused to believe that Gosnell's actions said anything about the larger abortion industry, comparing him to cannibalistic murderer Jeffrey Dahmer.

LGBT "Rights"

With the exception of Carbajal, who in his written answers to my questions showed impressive message discipline and an absolute refusal to answer specific questions, I was able to find a small bit of agreement on this issue with Schneider and Ostrander.

Let's get Carbajal out of the way first.

My questions:

  1. There was some muddled discussion about North Carolina's "bathroom law" at the forum. At one point you made a statement about "slandering the LGBT community." I want to understand where you're coming from.
  2. Do men who "identify" as women have the right to use women's bathrooms and vice versa?
  3. Does a boy who "identifies" as a girl (but has not undergone any hormone treatment or sex change surgery) have a right to use the same high school locker room and shower facilities as teenage girls? How would you weigh the right of the trans student against that of the girls?

Carbajal's answer:

The discriminatory anti-LGBT bathroom laws recently passed in states like North Carolina and Georgia are harmful and go against the great strides we’ve made in social progress this past year with a historic decision from the U.S. Supreme Court ruling same-sex marriage legal in every state. The so-called bathroom bill and other bills allowing for the legal discrimination against transgender employees violate basic civil rights and only breed hate when we should be building tolerance and acceptance in our communities.

My third question to Carbajal was one where Schneider and Ostrander both appeared to come to a commonsense consensus.

There's been a few cases of this in the news lately, but this case out of Illinois was one of the ones that prompted this question.

A local transgender student's legal battle to win unrestricted locker room access could have repercussions across the country. Recently the U.S. Department of Education ruled that Palatine Township High School District 211 violated a transgender student's right not to be discriminated against when it refused the student, who was born male but identifies as female, unfettered access to the girls' locker room.

Both Ostrander and Schneider agreed that the solution to this sort of situation is the "family" or "unisex" bathroom facility that ensures student privacy. Schneider suggested that maybe high school locker rooms could be refurbished so that the rows of showers with no privacy that we all remember from our high school days is a thing of the past.

That's not necessarily something I oppose, but the cost to do that across the nation to every high school to accommodate such a small number of students would be astronomical.

On a somewhat related note, I asked Schneider why she gave a little shout-out to musician Bruce Springsteen at the forum. She responded that it was because of his decision not to perform in North Carolina to protest the bathroom law referenced in Carbajal's answer above.

I asked her how Springsteen refusing to perform in North Carolina because he opposed that law was different from a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay "marriage."

I pointed out that in the cases that have made the news, whether it's a baker or a florist or a photographer, the objection has been to the "wedding" part of it, not against providing services to gays because they're gay. They've been perfectly willing to bake a birthday cake or a congratulations-you-got-promoted-cake, etc. They just don't want to participate in something they're morally opposed to—just like Springsteen.

Schneider posited that Springsteen was different because he travels around performing and bakers don't operate their businesses that way. Sensing that probably wasn't the best answer, Schneider went on offense. Refusing to bake a gay wedding cake is the same as refusing to serve blacks.

Predictable. Not at all similar circumstances. And not something that's occurred in this country in the 21st century. And then there's this, which I suspect Schneider would be OK with.

Political virtue-signaling

At the end of my column, I gave the four candidates an opportunity to make the case for themselves to Democratic voters. Ostrander's answer was the shortest, simply because, when prompted, the rest of his answer was a mini-tirade on Carbajal, Capps' hand-picked replacement.

It's clear the Ostrander doesn't like Carbajal one bit.

Don't make any mistake. Though I focused my column and this lengthy addendum on the Democrats, this virtue-signaling is something Republicans are doing too. It's also a necessary evil. Most voters don't have the time, let alone the opportunity, to really get down to specifics with candidates. Virtue-signaling is an easy way to find out which candidates share your basic worldview.

When the general election comes around, you'd hope that the final two candidates, whoever they are, could have a more substantive debate—but don't hold your breath.


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May 2016



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