CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The national media last week learned what those of us who have covered Sen. Joe Manchin for years have always known: He can sound like he's saying something substantive without saying much of anything at all.
During his appearances on network morning shows, Manchin, of course, never called for banning anything, but for a dialogue on how to stem the national epidemic of mass shootings. Indeed, Manchin is probably right in that the problem is not just the easy accessibility to semi-automatic weapons, but also insufficient mental health care resources, and a pop culture that glorifies extreme violence in movies and video games.
Given that tone, it was remarkable to see the vile and nasty comments directed at Manchin from the extreme gun rights advocates -- particularly since they're not acting in a position of strength under the circumstances.
It was entirely inappropriate for Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia chapter of the "astroturf" group Citizens Defense League to refer to Manchin as "Sen. Elmer Fudd" and calling him a snake for daring to even open a dialogue on extreme gun violence in this country.
Equally bizarre were comments from state Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas calling Manchin "classless" for raising the issue so soon after the Newtown shootings, and saying he had "humiliated himself and his state."
Lucas did not say how long a waiting period would be appropriate before the topic is suitable for national debate ... perhaps until the next mass murder?
Some readers suggested I was unfair to poke fun at the lack of math skills of the author of a New York Times report that said the state gives out more than $1.5 billion of tax incentives each year. (Heck, I was just looking for an easy segue into the fact that the state had just released its annual Tax Credit Disclosure List ... )
Whether the correct figure is $1.5 billion or more like $82 million is a matter of semantics. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what a tax incentive is.
To my mind, a tax incentive is something a state actively offers to recruit or retain a particular business, be it tax credits, grants, low-interest loans, etc.
In the Times report, the vast majority of what it calls incentives -- more than $1.2 billion of the total -- is because the state does not impose consumer sales taxes on raw materials. (Nor does any other state, as far as I'm aware.)
Because West Virginia, given its relatively small size, exports a lot of coal, natural gas, and electricity, the Times makes it look like we're giving away a lot of incentives on a per capita basis.
Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, who has been critical of the Times report, said it makes for great copy and generates a lot of conversation, but is not a valid comparison of tax incentives state-by-state.
"It's not comparing apples with apples," he said. "It's comparing apples with pineapples."