President Obama is not one to be intimidated by long odds. That much is clear from his political career in general, but certainly from his dogged pursuit of Obamacare when the polls showed the country hated the bill and thought it was unconstitutional, and even elected a Republican to Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in the hopes of stopping the legislation in its tracks.
Advisors told Obama to drop it, pretty much right up until it passed. There were any number of opportunities for the White House to gracefully bow out of the health care reform fight, and they were all ignored. It can certainly be argued that when the public begged the president not to inflict a bad law on them, he should have spared them. But it can’t be argued that the president accepts conventional wisdom on what is politically feasible as the last word. And so it is with gun control.
This is an issue on which the president hadn’t previously shown too much interest, mostly because he wanted to be re-elected. But he saw an opportunity in tragedy, and sought to exploit the nation’s shock and grief to grant another liberal wish. He wanted a ban on so-called assault weapons–though it has become clear the president could not, if asked, identify them–and Harry Reid told him too many Democrats in the Senate wanted to get re-elected to support it. Obama told him the White House would be back for the gun ban at some point.
The idea then was to go forward with what was left of the gun control legislation without the gun ban, which amounted to mostly increased background checks. But civil liberties advocates didn’t like what sounded like a national gun registry and bureaucrats making mental health diagnoses. Democrats started getting cold feet on the background checks too.
But the president, as usual, wasn’t ready to surrender. He wondered aloud how many Republicans care about their children. The majority of Americans disapprove of that kind of offensive rhetoric, and so they disapprove of how the president is handling the gun control issue. But he was just getting started. He went to Connecticut yesterday, held a rally in support of gun control, and said this to the cheering crowd:
What’s more important to you: our children, or an A-grade from the gun lobby?
The president’s habit of telling the American people that his political opponents are monsters while exploiting grief and tragedy for political purposes is in bad taste. Most politicians know that this kind of thing can get out of hand and poison the political process: the most notorious example is of Ted Kennedy’s shameful attack on Robert Bork, which ruined the judicial confirmation process and scarred the courts, and from which American political discourse has never recovered. President Obama’s rhetoric has not reached such depths, but it is also an attack on the character of a far larger number of people.
In any case, the problem is that it works. Kennedy stopped Bork. Liberals who accused Obamacare’s critics in the Senate of literally wanting to kill thousands of people got their bill. And, the New York Times reports, it appears Obama will at least get a vote on the latest iteration of gun control:
Several Senate Republicans on Tuesday came out publicly against filibustering the first major gun control legislation since 1993 before it is even brought up for debate on the Senate floor, as advocates inched toward breaking a conservative blockade of the measure.
With backers of new gun safety laws increasingly optimistic that they can corral the 60 votes necessary to begin consideration of the measure, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he would schedule a showdown vote for Thursday. His comments came as lobbying on gun control stepped up on Capitol Hill, with the families of children killed in Newtown, Conn., four months ago fanning out across the Senate to personally appeal to lawmakers to vote “yes.”
Some Republicans still want clarification of what, exactly, is in the bill before they agree to bring it up for a vote, but it will be interesting to see if the final bill is something that could also pass the House, since the GOP controls that chamber. That means the legislation itself could end up passing the Senate and still not get enacted. Or it could get a vote in the Senate, but lose the vote.
One thing is for sure: this is far from the last time conservatives will be demonized by the president when he wants something from them. And it’s probably not the last time it’ll work, either.