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.
The New York Times carries an op-ed today on gun control that will disappoint readers of every political stripe. The headline, “Rewrite the Second Amendment,” is tantalizingly provocative; unfortunately, the rest of the column fails to cash the check.
For anyone following the gun control debate with a strong opinion on the issue, at first glance it appears to finally be the op-ed we’ve all been waiting for. Democrats who don’t much care for the right to bear arms or the general fealty to constitutional doctrine–and they are legion–but don’t have the guts to say so will be expecting the author, University of Texas professor Zachary Elkins, to speak for them. Republicans who wish to paint their antagonists as radical gun-grabbers–and they are legion–will be expecting Elkins to finally put flesh on the straw man. The common ground they are most likely to find, however, is in jointly panning the op-ed for overpromising.
Elkins begins by describing the current political impasse over gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre. He then seems to set us up for the punchline when he writes: “It is actually quite unusual for gun rights to be included in a constitution.”
Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is right when she notes in her Wall Street Journal op-ed today that President Obama’s focus on new gun laws to the exclusion of concerns about violence in movies, television and video games is both hypocritical and partisan. In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, the administration paid some lip service to the obvious fact that the crime might be traced back to questions about mental illness or the influence of violent entertainment. But once that was over with, the sole focus of the president and his allies has been on demonizing the National Rifle Association and trying to use the incident as an excuse to advance, even if only incrementally, the traditional liberal gun control agenda. The result is what she correctly labels a “stale debate,” since having a Democrat target the NRA is as predicable as a Republican bashing Hollywood and requires no more courage.
What Brown wants is for Obama to man up and face down an industry that is a major source of funding for his and other Democrats’ campaigns by telling Hollywood and the video game makers to start policing themselves before the government finds a way to do it for them. She points out that there is a consensus among social scientists that media violence has an impact on children and puts forward a list of suggestions, including restrictions on the amount of violence that children can see on television. But while as a parent I share her concerns about violent images, my reaction to her ideas isn’t much different from the one I felt last December when I heard NRA chief Wayne LaPierre attempt to deflect attention away from guns and onto video games after Newtown: throwing the First Amendment under the bus in a vain effort to save the Second isn’t going to do the Constitution or the country much good.
President Obama renewed his push for more restrictive gun control legislation today with an emotional appeal in which he said the nation ought to be ashamed of the waning interest in his proposals:
“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked and the entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time would be different,” Mr. Obama said, his voice rising with indignation. “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
The president is being pressured by members of his liberal base who are blaming him not only for the fact that most of his ideas have no chance of being passed by Congress but also for the drop in public support for his plans since the initial surge for more gun control after the Newtown massacre in December. That was made apparent by a new CBS News poll that shows sympathy for stricter gun laws is down by 10 percent since the tragic shooting of 20 children and six teachers. The survey now shows the percentage of Americans who want more gun legislation to have fallen below the 50 percent mark to only 47 percent, while the number of those who believe the laws should stay as they are has risen to 39 percent from 30 percent three months ago.
Gun control advocates lament this change and say, as the president did today, that it is a function of forgetfulness. That’s why, as Seth wrote earlier, the Michael Bloomberg-funded campaign to promote the issue is seeking to rekindle outrage over Sandy Hook with emotion-laden commercials depicting the parents of the victims. But the problem here is not a lack of concern for the memory of the slain or callousness on the part of growing numbers of Americans. It is the fact that the case for the president’s proposals relies primarily on just this sort of emotion rather than reason. The longer we have to think about it, the less sense these restrictions make to people.
Yesterday, as Nancy Pelosi insisted the Democrats had not “lost momentum” on their push for gun control, one thing became clear: the Democrats had absolutely lost momentum on their push for gun control. Pelosi may have been trying to put a brave face on the Democrats’ gun-ban failure, but she undermined her own words of encouragement in the same breath, the Hill reports:
“Say it doesn’t prevail, just for the sake of argument,” she said. “It argues all the more strongly for having the toughest; best; most effective background checks, instead of diluting the background checks, because we might not succeed with the assault weapons ban.”
But even more of an indication of the direction of this legislative battle than Pelosi’s comments was the reaction New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg received when he tried to threaten Democrats in pro-gun states.
Yahoo News reports that Vice President Joe Biden met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–the leading proponent of a theory of liberal governing known as “banning stuff I don’t much like”–to try to revive the gun ban that Harry Reid dropped from the Senate’s push for gun control legislation. Biden and Bloomberg “issued a joint appeal to members of Congress, urging lawmakers to ignore politics and do the ‘right thing’ by passing new federal gun-control laws.”
The phrase “ignore politics” means ignore the voters, to whom members of Congress are answerable and who they expect to punish them for going too far on this issue. As I wrote yesterday, in pushing the assault weapons ban, the White House put Reid in a difficult position. Reid rarely permits the Senate to carry out anything resembling responsible governance because he doesn’t want Democrats to have to vote on anything troublesome. Since most liberal policy ideas are terrible, Reid ensures they rarely have to come to the floor for a vote. But President Obama made gun control an issue, and wanted a whip count on a gun ban. So Reid gave him the whip count–publicly–which embarrassed the gun ban’s supporters because it showed that Democrats don’t like the legislation either, which is why it was dropped.
Which leads to a question we find ourselves asking an awful lot these days: What is Joe Biden doing?
In researching a topic, I inadvertently came across a recent criticism of me by Rush Limbaugh that I think is worth responding to.
Maybe the place to begin is to point out that I met Rush in the early 1990s, while working for William Bennett, and while we don’t see each other often, we’ve maintained a friendship over the years. We’re both conservative and so we agree often, though not always. Nor does Rush believe personal relationships should prevent political disagreements from being aired publicly, which is an entirely defensible position. And he knows that goes both ways.
With that said, let me set the stage for what triggered Rush’s comments. I had written a piece in COMMENTARY saying that (a) I found many of President Obama’s gun proposals unobjectionable and (b) those who insist that it qualifies as an attack on the Second Amendment need to keep in mind that the right to bear arms is not an unlimited one.
President Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein are not happy with Harry Reid. The feeling is mutual. And no one is hiding it very well. The three Democratic leaders are reacting to the announcement that Feinstein’s ban on certain so-called “assault weapons” will not be included in the final Senate gun-control bill and will not be voted on. The assault-weapons ban was always going to end this way; the votes were never there for it.
And while Feinstein believes she was promised a vote and Obama isn’t thrilled about elevating this issue only to have it bow to political reality, there is something disingenuous in focusing their ire on Reid. After all, Reid’s strategy of grinding the Senate to a halt, locking out the opposition from getting votes or amendments, and obstructing even basic Senate business and responsibilities has always been about protecting Democrats from having to vote on their very unpopular, ill-considered policy ideas that the voters would surely hate.
In other words, fully aware of the absurdity of the Democratic policy agenda, Reid’s leadership has always been geared toward saving liberals from themselves–and the voters. And that is exactly what he’s doing on the gun bill. What’s more, while the White House says it’s not giving up on the ban, Reid is telling them to drop it. The Washington Post reports on Reid’s admission that a possible Republican filibuster of the bill is not the cause of its demise:
In response to my post on Senator Ted Cruz’s confrontation with Senator Dianne Feinstein, I heard from an adviser to Senator Cruz, who believes I provided an inaccurate and incomplete account of Senator Cruz’s views.
What Senator Cruz believes, I was told, is that (a) the weapons Senator Feinstein wants to ban fall under the category of “common use of the time,” which would make her ban unconstitutional; (b) that the itemized list Feinstein proposes raises serious constitutional issues; and (c) the Texas senator is fully aware of the meaning and implications of the Heller decision. I’m happy to relay those clarifications, as well as a link to an appearance on Fox News by Senator Cruz.
In a confrontation that has received a fair amount of attention, Republican Senator Ted Cruz pressed Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on her bill to reinstate a ban on assault weapons. Mr. Cruz argued that the starting point of the discussion should be the Constitution–and then pressed Ms. Feinstein on whether she would apply regulations to the First and Fourth Amendments (dealing with freedom of speech and the protection against unlawful search and seizure) similar to those she is seeking on the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms).
“The Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” Cruz said–and then asked whether the First Amendment should “only apply” to certain books or the Fourth Amendment should only protect certain people from unreasonable searches.
Senator Feinstein reacted sharply, saying, “I’m not a 6th grader. I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it.” She later said she felt “patronized” by Senator Cruz, whom she called “arrogant.”
With the help of a massive campaign contribution by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun control advocate Robin Kelly won the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed Jesse Jackson Jr. The result is reason for Bloomberg to crow, but any attempt to interpret the victory of a liberal candidate in an Illinois Democratic congressional primary as a harbinger of a shift in American politics is obviously a stretch. The infusion of more than $2 million into a contest to win what amounts to an urban rotten borough was simply a matter of cash and carry. The fact that Kelly’s opponent once got an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association was motivation enough for Bloomberg to get involved–but even if he hadn’t stepped in, no one who hopes to represent that district was going to be anything but liberal.
As Seth wrote yesterday, figuring out exactly what Bloomberg is up to with his donations is no easy task. But whatever direction the mayor takes, the example of his decisive intervention in a primary battle could turn out to be more influential than it might seem on the surface. Just as conservatives and Tea Party activists have helped shift the Republican Party to the right with threats of primaries funded by outside activists with deep pockets, what Bloomberg has done is to illustrate that liberals can play the same game with similarly problematic consequences for the Democratic Party.
Yesterday, Jonathan mentioned the money-in-politics hypocrisy of President Obama and his supporters on the left, as the president announced ramped-up efforts to sell access to the White House. The other side of the left’s hypocrisy on the evils of buying political influence concerns the spending of “outside money” on congressional and gubernatorial elections. Yet while the Koch brothers are subjected to all manner of threats and verbal abuse for taking part in the political process, the same cannot be said of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to spend millions on individual races to support anti-gun rights politicians, such as in the Democratic primary being held today to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.
As expected, Bloomberg’s target, Debbie Halvorson, isn’t happy about the mayor’s money tour and Bloomberg’s attempts to make an example of her today. After Bloomberg’s check-signing spree occasioned some changes in the composition of the race, Halvorson accused Bloomberg of trying to buy the election. Perish the thought, responded Bloomberg: “I’m part of the public. I happen to have some money, and that’s what I’m going to do with my money — try to get us some sensible gun laws.” Bloomberg is, of course, absolutely right that he’s doing nothing wrong by involving himself in the political process on behalf of candidates and causes he supports. But the most interesting aspect of this story may be that Bloomberg is less dedicated to being a single-issue one-man super-PAC than he seems at first blush.
In April 2009, Politico dryly reported that Vice President Joe Biden had once again tripped over his words: “These sorts of comments are what the Obama administration fears from Biden, who after more than three decades in Washington is known for making gaffes.” It sounded like it must have been harmless enough–if this is what the administration “fears” from Biden, but nevertheless chose him to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, it couldn’t have been much more than an honest mistake or maybe an unintentionally offensive comment, the latter being Biden’s specialty.
In fact, Biden’s comment was a suggestion that with the so-called swine flu spreading, this was the appropriate moment for the entire country to panic, assume a bunker mentality, and perhaps–just to be safe–put mass transit out of business during a global economic crisis when unemployment in the United States was 9 percent and rising:
With President Obama heading out on the road today for another campaign stop to promote his gun control package, thanks go, as they often have in the past, to Vice President Biden for helping to put the issue in perspective with some unscripted candor. The tenor of the discussion about the proposals has, since the president first unveiled them last month, been largely emotional as it seeks to tap into the universal horror felt by Americans about the Newtown shooting. But Biden made it clear that any thought that the White House’s advocacy on guns was geared to prevent a recurrence of that massacre is something between a fib and a forlorn hope. Speaking Thursday at the Capitol, Biden told reporters the following:
Nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down.
This is both fair and honest. But it also raises an important question. If the new measures, even the parts of the package, like universal background checks on gun sales, that most Americans view as both reasonable and appropriate, are not going to “bring gun deaths down,” then why are we being asked to support them and told that opponents of this legislation are extremists who don’t care about the children who were gunned down in Newtown? And it is exactly the answer to that question that makes some people regard the assurances coming from the administration of their unswerving support of the Second Amendment as being disingenuous.
I’ve been critical of CNN’s Piers Morgan in the past, but his interview with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quite good and enlightening. I say that because both men laid out reasonable arguments to support their case.
Mr. Morgan, in response to Gingrich’s concern that politicians should not be in the business of deciding how to “permit” Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights, pointed out that Gingrich himself believes the same thing. That is, Mr. Gingrich agrees we should ban automatic weapons–which means he agrees the government ought to be in the business of drawing lines and granting, or not granting, permission to use certain types of weapons.
The gun control debate is good for Republicans, good for the White House, and good for Democratic presidential hopefuls, since they can all play to their respective bases. But the biggest losers of the fight will probably be Harry Reid and the handful of Democratic senators up for reelection in red-leaning states. The Hill reports:
Reid’s job is to help move President Obama’s agenda through the upper chamber, but he must also protect his five-seat Senate majority, and gun-rights groups are threatening to go after vulnerable Senate Democrats who back the president’s calls for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. …
Some Democrats think passage of the 1994 assault-weapons ban was a reason they lost control of the Senate and the House later that year.
Already, a coalition of 36 groups supporting gun owners’ rights has formed to retaliate against any Democratic senator who votes for restrictions on gun and ammo sales.
On President Obama’s proposal for curbing gun violence, I have several thoughts.
1. Even when I agree in substance with the president, as I do in this instance, I find his combination of self-righteousness and demagoguery to be off-putting. In his remarks earlier today, for example, the president once again took to the task of demonizing his opponents, something he does more promiscuously than any president I can recall.
For Mr. Obama, it’s never about honest differences over policies. His political opponents have to be painted as morally obtuse, cruel and motivated by the basest considerations. (The president, of course, is always portraying himself as hovering far above politics, a man of stainless integrity and motives that are pure as the driven snow. Which is quite a feat for a man who ran a billion-dollar campaign of unusual ruthlessness and dishonesty.)
Even before President Obama announced his much-ballyhooed package of gun control proposals it was already clear that he had little or no chance to gain passage of the most talked about element of the package: a new assault weapons ban. Nor, as even as sympathetic a forum as the New York Times noted, was there much connection between most of what he is putting forward and the Newtown shooting, which serves as the impetus for raising this issue. Yet with the family members of the victims and children who wrote letters to the White House around them today, the president is plowing ahead determined to make the most of this opportunity to put an emotional issue at the center of the nation’s political agenda.
The president’s decision to go big with his gun proposal is made possible by the country’s shock and horror over the murder of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Yet the far-ranging list of executive action and proposed laws is intended to deal with what the president called an epidemic of gun violence, not more incidents like Newtown. Some of them are anodyne in nature and unlikely to prompt much in the way of serious protest. Others, like the idea of a universal background check, are also designed to gain broad support. But the event held today isn’t going to lead to anything that will prevent another such atrocity. What it is designed to do is to give the president an emotional issue with which he can generate momentum that will start his second term on a strong note and with his Congressional opponents on the defensive.
Needless to say, the past few weeks haven’t been great for the National Rifle Association from a PR perspective. Shortly after Wayne LaPierre’s controversial speech blaming 1990s-era video games and movies for the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA was accused of releasing a simulated target-shooting app.
There is still some confusion over whether the game was actually issued by the NRA, or whether it was a hoax aimed at embarrassing the group. But at the moment, evidence points to the former–the game’s developer told the New York Times that it was, in fact, an officially-licensed product of the NRA. There is an easy solution to the mystery: if the game is not the NRA’s, the group could issue a statement explaining that. Its silence seems to suggest otherwise.
Harry Reid tried his best to undermine any assault weapons ban proposal before it saw the light of day, but the Washington Post reports that President Obama is going ahead with it. The president will release his proposals for comprehensive gun control tomorrow, including as many as 19 executive orders:
President Obama will unveil a sweeping set of gun-control proposals at midday Wednesday, including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and limits on the number of bullets magazines can hold, according to sources familiar with the plans.
The announcement, to be delivered at the White House, is also expected to include a slate of up to 19 executive actions that the Obama administration can take on its own to attempt to limit gun violence. The White House has invited key lawmakers as well as gun-control advocates to appear at Wednesday’s policy rollout, according to two officials who have been invited to the event.