How Game of Thrones explains the gun control debate


Reading through the transcript of Obama’s speech today, in the wake of the executive actions his administration is taking to address gun violence. It’s a good speech, thoughtful, measured.  I’m cynical (or just disheartened) enough that I don’t think it will matter much either way — at least not the speech itself.  It could be that the executive actions will have a positive effect, I don’t know.

But I was struck by something else.  At one point he makes this statement, trying both to appeal to those who are truly non-partisan on the issue, and (I think) to make sense of the partisanship himself:

This is not that complicated. The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections.

Reminds me a little of Ned Stark on Game of Thrones.  Not only Ned, but anyone on the show who forgets, at any moment, the nature of the world they inhabit.   Ned is just the clearest example: someone who not only tries to do the right thing, but genuinely expects everyone else to play by the same set of rules and be guided by the same sense of honor.  It’s not that Obama is doing the right thing here — I believe he is, but that’s not the point.  It’s that he insists on believing that he’s surrounded by adults.

Obama just seems baffled, in these moments, that these are arguments he has to make — that anyone would have to make these arguments.  Maybe that’s just part of his pitch to the country, the subtext: This is crazy, isn’t it? But we’ve seen it enough that I think, deep down, he really is puzzled.  He’s Ned, explaining to Cersei that it would be best if she just voluntarily removes herself from the seat of power, for, you know, the good of the realm and whatnot.

What those in power are willing to do to keep it — and what those without power are willing to do to attain it — is a big part of what makes Game of Thrones awful and fun.  Also a big part of what makes politics — anywhere, in any age — frustrating and soul-crushing.

Maybe it wouldn’t help if Obama had Tyrion (or even just Peter Dinklage) as an advisor.  But I don’t think it could hurt at this point.



About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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