Some conservatives seek safe spaces as Florida teens fight for gun control

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky asks Sen. Marco Rubio, right, a question during a CNN town hall meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Feb. 21, 2018.  (Photo: Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

As survivors of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting have mobilized to pressure public officials on gun control while rebutting the arguments of right-wing commentators, hurt conservatives are suggesting they would like a safe space from the teenagers’ insults.

One of the teens’ main focuses has been Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. The teens — Rubio’s constituents — are denouncing him for his votes opposing gun control measures and for the $3 million in donations he has received from the National Rifle Association. At a town hall Wednesday night, students and the parent of a girl murdered in the attack directly confronted Rubio about his positions as a packed house jeered his comments.

“Parents, what would you do if your child lectured and ridiculed a U.S. senator on national television?” asked conservative radio host Todd Starnes, receiving more than 31,000 replies, many of them suggesting a reward of some sort. Earlier this week, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly — no stranger to mocking whiners and “snowflakes”questioned whether the media should be promoting the opinions of the teens at all. The managing editor for the self-identified liberal news watchdog NewsBusters called the questioning “absolutely despicable behavior.”

As Rubio attempted to defend himself on Twitter, the Parkland teens did not relent. Late Thursday, junior Sarah Chadwick wrote: “We should change the names of AR-15s to ‘Marco Rubio’ because they are so easy to buy” — a message that has been retweeted more than 42,000 times.

The Parkland teens have proven a tough target for critics on the right, combining a sympathetic story (their friends, teachers and coaches were shot last week) with an adept understanding of how social media works. They’ve easily deflected right-wing attacks that have bogged down traditional politicians and laughed off conspiracy theories claiming they were actually paid crisis actors. Some observers have praised them for asking better questions than professional journalists.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted Chadwick’s Rubio joke Friday morning with the intro, “HOW TEENS SPEAK TO AND ABT ADULTS,” conveying her resentment at the tone the teens were taking.

This is a break from contemporary right-wing orthodoxy, which demands a disdain for political correctness and censorship. The conservative meme is that issues should be settled in robust debate in “the marketplace of ideas.” Then-candidate Donald Trump said in 2015 that he considered political correctness a “big problem” the U.S. faced. Liberals who take offense at uncensored language are derided as “snowflakes.”

This view that liberals are too fragile to engage in verbal give and take was summed up by a guest on Starnes radio show last year.

“We’ve seen an avalanche of snowflakes in 2017,” said Allie Stuckey, who bills herself as “the conservative millennial.” “People who are unable to engage in productive dialogue, discourse and debate. They’re unable to hear the other side without leading to ad hominem insults, and they’re so offended by every microaggression, by every verbal slant that they hear, that they seek their safe spaces.”

Ingraham is no stranger to flinging insults at public figures, including Rubio himself, who she called “Marco Roboto” and “Houdini” in addition to implying he was a con man. Her views on the importance of decorum in public discourse were on display in her 2010 book, “The Obama Diaries,” a satirical take on the first 18 months of the Obama presidency. The book was criticized for its racial stereotypes that attacked both President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, as it included passages such as: “Michelle’s lunch was baby back ribs. Afternoon snack: More ribs. Bedtime snack: The last three ribs.”

“But look, the Obamas are people,” said Ingraham when criticized for the tone of her book. “We are all people. They’re not deities. They’re not monarchs.”

The Parkland teens have showed no signs of slowing their calls for increased gun control — a march on Washington, D.C., is planned for next month — so their opponents will have to decide whether to face the survivors on social media, an arena in which the digital natives are supremely confident, or retreat to a place of safety

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