Commentary Magazine


Topic: gun control

Obama’s Determination and Demagoguery Pay Off

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.

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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.

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A Gun-Control Proposal that Is Doomed from the Start

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.”

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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.”

The obvious response is: so what? But the reader senses that he will follow that by suggesting gun rights be removed from our Constitution. Here comes the set-up:

“What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ do you not understand?” the gun-rights advocate asks. “What part of ‘a well regulated Militia’ do you not understand?” goes the retort.

Partly because of this ambiguity, the Second Amendment seemed almost irrelevant for most of our history. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many American towns and states regulated guns. In the deadly confrontation at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., in 1881, Wyatt Earp was enforcing a ban on carrying guns in public.

But in the 1980s, a movement to interpret the amendment as promoting the right to bear arms for self-defense emerged. It reached an apotheosis of sorts in the 2008 case, which struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns. It was the first time the court had ever restricted gun regulation, but the 5-to-4 vote also suggests that the decision is not fixed doctrine.

This constitutional uncertainty should suggest to both sides the possibility of agreeing on a formal clarification of the constitutional text.

And that clarified constitutional text would say… what exactly? He never says. Offering no guidance, that would be left up to Congress. Which is where we are now. Which is why there’s an impasse, and why Elkins wrote the op-ed. Come to think of it, why did Elkins write the op-ed?

The most recent attempted gun ban failed because it could not garner 50 votes in the Senate, and less restrictive legislation is starting to look like it can’t get to 60 votes in the Senate, let alone the GOP-majority House. So Elkins, to break the stalemate, wants Congress to find a way to enact gun regulation that would need two-thirds of each house of Congress and three-fourths of the country’s state legislatures? I would be curious to know–as would, presumably, everyone else who read that op-ed–what specific regulation language Elkins thinks cannot garner half of Congress but can garner two-thirds.

But one begins to suspect that that was the point all along. Gun regulation of the type liberals want can’t pass Congress, so they want this to be taken out of the hands of politicians altogether and enshrined in a document they have suddenly found useful again. But that won’t solve the problem either in the end, because to amend the Constitution you have to go through the politicians that Elkins would prefer to avoid.

And that, I would guess, is why Elkins’s op-ed ended up saying nothing at all. He obviously thinks it’s silly to have gun rights in the Constitution, but Americans think it would be silly not to. As did the Founders. Elkins’s op-ed seems to be happening in real-time, as we can sense him start to slowly back out of the commitment he was sure to make only minutes ago. And the conclusion we get, instead, is: Never mind.

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Bashing Hollywood Won’t Stop More Newtowns Either

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.

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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.

Let’s specify that Brown is right that Obama is uniquely positioned as a liberal icon to use his bully pulpit to campaign against violent entertainment. But the man whose wife presented the Best Film award at this year’s Oscars has no interest in echoing Tipper Gore or Joe Lieberman when it comes to scolding the makers of films, TV shows or video games about the numbing effect of the fake violence they profit from. If he or his glamorous wife wanted to take up this cause they might have the leverage to have some impact on the products marketed to impressionable audiences. That they prefer instead to grandstand about guns and to engage in emotional arguments about murdered children that are generally bereft of any proof that the measures would actually lower the amount of gun violence or prevent another Newtown illustrates their lack of seriousness about the subject. For all of the talk about Congress lacking the courage to stand up to the NRA, the White House’s toadying to Hollywood is every bit as, if not far more, pusillanimous.

But, like some of the president’s gun control suggestions, the fact that Brown’s suggestions about entertainment sound reasonable doesn’t make up for the fact that they lack a tangible connection to Newtown.

It is true that the Newtown murderer appears to have been as obsessed with violent video games as much as with guns. But like past disputes about the level of violence in movies and television, which were blamed for the crimes committed by outliers in past generations, to jump to the conclusion that video games make Adam Lanza kill 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut is no more responsible than blaming the act of an insane person on the legal weapon that he committed the crime with.

The point here is that for Brown and others to use Newtown as an excuse to revive concerns about violence in entertainment is no different from the cynical manner with which gun control advocates have waved the bloody shirt of the massacre to resurrect their own pet schemes to ban assault weapons or otherwise restrict ownership of firearms.

I happen to sympathize greatly with Brown’s concerns. Like virtually everyone else who pays for cable I love her proposal about stopping cable companies from bundling channels to make consumers pay for those that they have little interest in. I, for one, would be quite happy if I could be allowed to only purchase those that broadcast news and sports and let others pay for the ones that show the vast array of trashy reality shows that are a staple of basic cable which we are all obligated to buy.

More importantly, the country would be far better off and our culture less coarse if there were less violence on television and in the movies. But the responsibility for stopping our children from seeing those shows and movies or playing those games belongs to parents, not the government. And the studies Brown cites notwithstanding, I’m not convinced there is any reason to believe that Lanza killed innocents because of video games any more than I am that it happened because the popular weapon he employed to commit his crime was legal.

I have no more problems with public advocacy for less violent entertainment than I do with background checks on gun purchases. But I doubt that either will prevent another insane person from thinking about committing an atrocity or obtaining the means to carry it out if they are determined to do so.

Flawed as it is, making Hollywood the scapegoat for Newtown makes as little sense as doing the same for the equally unpopular leadership of the NRA. Conservatives should be as protective of the First Amendment rights of the former to produce objectionable material as they are of the Second Amendment rights of the members of the latter.

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Obama’s Appeal to Emotion Versus Reason

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.

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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.

The president and other gun control advocates are right when they criticize those opponents who frame gun rights in absolute terms. The Second Amendment does not prohibit the regulation of guns or even the banning of some sorts of weapons. But to concede that point does not mean that every proposed restriction makes sense or, more to the point, would prevent another Newtown or even lower gun violence in general. Indeed, in their more candid moments, President Obama and Vice President Biden have conceded that this is true.

Many Americans reflexively support any restriction on guns just as some are knee-jerk opponents of even the most reasonable ideas about regulating them. But the more such issues are discussed, the more apparent it becomes to thinking voters that banning certain types of rifles that look like military weapons or even requiring more background checks to complete a legal gun sale is not likely to stop an insane person from committing a massacre. Nor is there much reason to believe such laws will stop criminals from gaining access to illegal weapons.

Seen in that light, the rationale for more gun control boils down to either a general desire to restrict gun rights (a sentiment that is more prevalent among liberals than the president and those who agree with him like to admit) or a desire for a gesture to show our frustration with a problem that transcends theoretical Second Amendment debates.

While a majority of Americans and perhaps even a majority of Congress can agree to more background checks, the notion that more emotional appeals are what the country needs when discussing guns belies the fact that advocates are bereft of better reasoned arguments.

A purely cold-blooded mode of public advocacy has its drawbacks. We ought to care deeply about the issues of the day and there is nothing wrong with sometimes expressing our views with passion. But there is a difference between a passion for the public good and waving the bloody shirt of Newtown or any other tragedy.

The founders of our republic espoused representative democracy and a system of checks and balances specifically because they rightly feared a government that was governed by the emotional whims of the mob. They understood that mobs—whether they consist of 18th century street toughs or 21st century viewers who are easily influenced by inflammatory images—do not reason. They emote. And what results from such emotions is likely to be the opposite of good public policy.

All of which means that the more gun control advocates feel compelled to show disturbing videos of grieving parents, the weaker their case must be. It’s not that we’ve forgotten Newtown, but that more of us have come to understand that we ought not allow our sadness over this tragedy to be exploited by political operatives who are interested in furthering an ideological agenda rather than saving lives.

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Democrats Still Spinning Their Wheels on Gun Control

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.

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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.

The Associated Press reports that since persuading voters and their elected representatives of the wisdom and utility of liberal gun legislation has favored conservatives and constitutionalists, President Obama and Bloomberg are going to try other methods: scare tactics, raw appeals to emotion through the president’s exploitation of the grief of families of Newtown victims, and lots and lots of money.

Democrats who represent pro-Second Amendment states are pushing back, however. The beauty of America’s cultural diversity is that many Americans live in states where they don’t have to ask their government’s permission to retrieve a soda or sandwich from their refrigerator, as New York’s Pop Czar would prefer. Those same voters often don’t like various other constitutional protections infringed upon, and their elected representatives know this. The AP notes that North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Arkansas’s Mark Pryor are two prominent examples:

“I do not need someone from New York City to tell me how to handle crime in our state. I know that we can go after and prosecute criminals without the need to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding North Dakotans,” Heitkamp said this week, citing the constitutional right to bear arms.

Heitkamp does not face re-election next year, but Pryor and five other Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning or closely divided states do. All six, from Southern and Western states, will face voters whose deep attachment to guns is unshakeable – not to mention opposition from the still-potent National Rifle Association, should they vote for restrictions the NRA opposes.

There’s that phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of Democrats: “will face voters.” Democrats keep forgetting about that part. The AP even does its part to try and help, as the press so often does, by mentioning that increased federal background checks for gun buyers would constitute “the remaining primary proposal pushed by Obama and many Democrats since 20 first-graders and six women were shot to death in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.”

The juxtaposition there is interesting, because the increased background checks–some of which are eminently sensible, unlike the random attempted gun ban–would not seem to have prevented the Newtown tragedy. But this is not really the point, as evidenced by the president’s strategy of attempting to establish his moral superiority instead of productively partaking in crafting meaningful legislation. And it is also nothing new. This hews closely to the habit of the president and his party, whether it be global warming legislation that his own government administrators admit won’t curb global warming; universal health insurance legislation that the Congressional Budget Office admits will likely kick millions of Americans off their existing plans and will incentivize those who tend not to buy insurance to continue not buying insurance; or “consumer protection” financial legislation that reinforces the federal government’s penchant for bailouts and solidifies the concept of “too big to fail” as federal policy underwritten by taxpayer money.

Voters are already wary of policies they see as violating their constitutional freedoms. They will only be more so as the Obama administration continues to push legislation that perpetuates, rather than solves, the problems it’s designed to address.

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Why Biden Won’t Fold on the Gun Ban

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?

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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?

The vice president is following a script heavy on emotion and symbolism and light on practicality. Of course, that’s national politics much of the time. But it hasn’t had much success thus far on the gun control debate. The best example of this failure is not Reid’s decision to pull the gun ban from a bill that might otherwise pass the Senate and at least enact some additional regulation of gun purchases, but rather what happened when New York State passed a gun bun.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appealed to emotion after the Newtown tragedy and created a crisis atmosphere to force through a restrictive gun ban. The bill Cuomo proudly signed was a perfectly contemptible example of bad governing. He would like it to go on his resume has having taken action on an issue of import, but it really attests to how ill-served voters are to have someone like Cuomo represent them in office. At Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson explains:

The NY Gun law effectively banned the purchase of new pistols because pistols are not generally made to hold 7-round magazines, and even if some manufacturers would produce such magazines for the NY market, it still presented a constitutional problem:  Under the Heller and McDonald cases, the state cannot effectively ban handguns either outright or by setting up irrational and onerous obstacles.

Such a law can only be written and supported by someone who doesn’t know much about handguns, constitutional law, or reasonable policy enforcement. So says Cuomo himself, about his own bill:

But after weeks of criticism from gun owners, Mr. Cuomo said on Wednesday that he would seek to ease the restriction, which he said had proved unworkable even before it was scheduled to take effect on April 15.

The gun-control law, approved in January, banned the sale of magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition. But, Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday, seven-round magazines are not widely manufactured. And, although the new gun law provided an exemption for the use of 10-round magazines at firing ranges and competitions, it did not provide a legal way for gun owners to purchase such magazines.

The obvious question is: Couldn’t Cuomo have found all this out before signing the bill? And the obvious answer is: Absolutely. But Cuomo saw an opportunity to “do something” and took it. Which brings us back to Biden. The vice president and Bloomberg gave a press conference surrounded by family of victims of the Newtown massacre and urged the political class to pass a gun ban in the name of those victims. Isn’t this exactly what ran aground both in New York and in the U.S. Senate?

It is. But Biden has much more of a stake in passing hearty gun control than even Cuomo, and certainly than his boss in the White House or Harry Reid. Biden was tasked by President Obama with leading the way on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Connecticut. Biden is trying to build his own White House resume, independent of Obama’s, because while Obama never has to face the voters again, Biden may want to run for president to succeed Obama. To do that, he’ll need to prove he’s more than just a schmoozer. The only way Biden has a shot is by establishing competence and authority. Biden, unlike Obama, Reid, and even, to a lesser extent, Cuomo, has too much riding on this losing hand to fold.

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Rush Limbaugh and Me

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.

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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.

This led to Rush arguing that many conservatives can’t stand the heat that comes with opposing President Obama daily. His argument goes something like this: It’s true that commentators like me will criticize the president, sometimes sharply. But we’ll then find ground to praise Mr. Obama “so as to maintain some credibility.” My views are tailored in a way to “look reasonable” to the Inside-the-Beltway world in which I live. In explaining my position on guns, Rush didn’t say he and I have an interesting and honest difference of opinion. He said, “I guarantee you it’s wrapped up in not wanting to be seen as opposing Obama just for the sake of it.”

This sort of critique is fairly typical in American politics. There must be some base, ulterior motive to explain differences in opinion. In this case, my views on gun restrictions–precisely where to draw a line we all acknowledge must be drawn–aren’t made in good faith. They’re animated by a desire to be seen as “reasonable” among The Liberal Establishment.

As you might imagine, this criticism strikes me as wide of the mark. I’m a commentator on daily, unfolding events, dealing with literally hundreds of them over the course of a single year. The vast majority of my critiques of the president are critical, since he and I hold very different political philosophies. (I took a leave of absence from my job to work to defeat him.) But on those rare occasions when I agree with Mr. Obama, I have no qualms saying so and explaining why I do. Common ground is not always cursed ground.

I do think that as a general matter it’s best to stay away from trying to divine the motives of others. For example, critics of Rush might say he’s a relentless critic of the president because he’s playing to his radio audience, fearing that if he ever expressed solidarity with the president his audience might tune him out. Now I don’t think that criticism would be fair, since I believe Rush’s criticisms are sincere. We’d probably all do better to live by the (paraphrased) words of the philosopher Sidney Hook, who said that before impugning an opponent’s motives, answer his arguments.

As for Rush’s broader point, I’m reminded of a wonderful 1965 essay the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote on the British businessman, essayist, and journalist Walter Bagehot. As Himmelfarb put it:

The current intellectual fashions put a premium on simplicity and activism. The subtleties, complications, and ambiguities that until recently have been the mark of serious thought are now taken to signify a failure of nerve, a compromise with evil, an evasion of judgment and “commitment.”

Bagehot possessed what Himmelfarb called a “compelling vision that inevitably brought with it a complexity, subtlety, and depth that he found lacking in much of the discourse of the time.”

In those relatively rare moments of self-reflection, I’d say my mistakes arise more often from failing the Bagehot standard than the Limbaugh one. By that I mean succumbing to the temptation to ascribe all virtue and intellectual merit to one’s own side while denying it to the other—as if on every issue all the arguments line up on one side and none on the other, freeing us of the need to carefully weigh competing goods.

That of course doesn’t mean that all views and policies are equally meritorious or that one cannot take a principled stand or that one cannot be highly critical (or highly supportive) of an American president. It merely means most of us need to avoid the Manichean Temptation more often than we do. That applies to me. And I imagine it applies to others as well. 

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Reid Tries to Save Liberals from Themselves

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:

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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:

Reid (D-Nev.) is preparing to move ahead with debate on a series of gun-control proposals when the Senate returns from a two-week Easter recess in early April. Although he has vowed to hold votes on measures introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, Reid told reporters Tuesday that the proposed assault-weapons ban isn’t holding up against Senate rules that require at least 60 votes to end debate and move to final passage.

The proposed ban, “using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60,” Reid said.

No, 40 is not 60. More importantly, it’s not 50, which means a straight up-or-down vote on the assault weapons ban would see Democrats knock the bill down. That’s Reid’s message to the White House (and to Feinstein). Reid doesn’t want to force Democrats to vote on the gun ban because the ensuing result would be both more damaging to the Democratic Party and more embarrassing for the White House, as enough Democrats went on record opposing the ban to publicly reject the president.

Obama may bristle at getting a brushback pitch from Reid, but electorally this strategy is better than the approach taken by Nancy Pelosi in the House. Reid represents a moderate state that leans conservative on some issues (like guns), which tempers his Senate leadership with a measure of reality. Not so with Pelosi. She hails from a very liberal district in the liberal state of California. The legislative agenda that comes out of the leftmost fringe of a Democratic Party already without moderates makes life even more difficult for lawmakers who aren’t as liberal as Pelosi. As such, when Democrats had the majority in the House and Pelosi served as speaker, she forced the House to vote on bills that were sure to go nowhere in the Senate and never be enacted but which put them on record in support of bad policy. That was the case, for example, with the cap-and-trade global warming bill back in 2009.

“We passed transformational legislation which takes us into the future,” Pelosi said after voting on legislation everyone knew would never become law. The following November, as Democrats approached a shellacking in the midterm elections, the New York Times reported that “House Democrats are bracing for tough losses across the country today, and the controversial cap-and-trade climate bill is sure to be part of any post-election analysis.” The Times added that the bill “has haunted” those who voted for it.

So the White House and Feinstein may want to lay off Reid. But they’re not. The Post adds:

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that Senate Democrats’ decision is not a setback for Obama’s gun-control efforts. He said that the bill can still be brought up as an amendment and that there should be a concerted effort to pass it.

“We’re going to work on this. We’re going to find the votes,” McDonough said, according to a transcript. “It deserves a vote, and let’s see if we can get it done.”

The Times reports that Feinstein is “angry” over the exclusion of the gun ban. But that anger is misdirected. There are two parties in the U.S. Congress, and neither of them wants the gun ban. Most of the Senate Democrats seem to have learned a lesson from the 2010 midterms, even if Obama and Feinstein have not.

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A Ted Cruz Response

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.

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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.

People can read my original post, watch the link I provided to the Cruz v. Feinstein confrontation, and then watch Senator Cruz’s post-hearing interview and decide for themselves how clear and effective his line of questioning was and the merits of my critique. I simply wanted to convey the views of Senator Cruz, to be sure readers were aware of them.

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Ted Cruz v. Dianne Feinstein

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.”

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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.”

Let me take these claims in reverse order. Having watched Senator Cruz from a distance, I can see why people view him as arrogant. If I were a close adviser, I would tell him so directly and counsel him to keep that tendency in check. It’s not necessary, it can be off-putting and eventually get him into trouble.

That said, I don’t think Cruz’s questions were either inappropriate or patronizing. He was pressing Senator Feinstein in the hopes of trapping her into an inconsistent application of constitutional rights. The problem is she didn’t handle the question well from a substantive point of view–and it took Senator Dick Durbin to make the obvious rejoinder, which is that our constitutional rights are not absolute.

For example, people don’t have a right, in the name of the First Amendment, to libel people, to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, to incite people to violence, and to sell child pornography at a public library (or anywhere else, for that matter).

As for the issue of firearms, the question can easily be thrown back at Senator Cruz. Does he believe in an absolute right to bear any arms at any time for any reason? What about fully automatic weapons (which are heavily restricted)? How about a rocket-propelled grenade launcher? A bazooka? An M-1 tank? Would Senator Cruz draw the line at any of these? Of course he would, and he would be right to do so. And in doing so, he would answer his own question. He would be conceding that there is no absolute right to bear arms, just like there’s no absolute right when it comes to freedom of speech. Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon, rightly pointed out in United States v. Heller that, like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It leaves room to regulate guns.

It seems to me, then, that the philosophical issue is pretty clear: in America we have a right, but not an absolute right, to bear arms. What we’re talking about is a prudential application of restrictions on guns. The debate is precisely where to draw the lines. What separates wise lawmakers from foolish ones is where and how you draw the lines.

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Will Democrats Have Their Own Tea Party?

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.

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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.

We’ve spent much of the months since November listening to an endless loop of pundits telling the public that the problem with the Republican Party is that conservatives hijacked it. Republicans who worry about Democrats permanently capturing the center, as well as liberals who don’t wish the party well, have joined in lamenting the influence of conservative donors and activist groups who have financed primary challenges to moderate GOP incumbents. The result is that several winnable seats have been lost by Republicans because of the primary victories of people like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin. Tea Partiers can answer, with justice, that establishment Republicans were beaten just as soundly as the right-wingers. But it is hard to argue with those who point out that at times the activists have prioritized ideology over electoral sense.

Democrats have looked on at this growing civil war on the right with smug satisfaction. The more the Club for Growth and other conservatives seek to target moderates while Karl Rove and his crowd counterattack, the better they like it. The prospect of the GOP being torn apart by the two factions is fueling Democratic optimism about the 2014 midterms. However, Bloomberg’s decision to turn the Jackson seat into a primary on gun legislation is a sign that Democrats are just as vulnerable to being led down the path of internecine combat as Republicans.

In the past few election cycles, the Democrats have shown greater unity than at perhaps at time in their recent history. They won back control of Congress in 2006 specifically by recruiting moderates to run in the South and the West where traditional liberals would have no chance. That’s left them with seats to defend next year in red states in which their priority must be to hew to the political center rather than to pander to their party’s base.

But if liberal activists are going to really prioritize their campaign for gun control, the result may well be that red-state Democrats who have voted with the NRA are going to be facing some well-funded primary challenges.

The reason why the president’s gun control legislation, including an assault weapons ban, has no chance even in the Democrat-controlled Senate is that many in the majority don’t wish to vote on any bill that will put them out of step with their state’s voters. That means that any trend toward primary challenges to pro-gun Democrats will not just divide their party, but hurt their chances of holding onto the seats that have enabled them to be in charge of the upper body and to gain ground in the House.

An obsession with political purity is not the sole preserve of the right. Should other liberal donors follow Bloomberg’s example and start investing in efforts to purge pro-gun Democrats, they may well be as successful in determining their party’s nominees as he was in Chicago. But when that experiment is applied to seats in competitive districts, the result will be just as disastrous for Democrats as some of the Tea Party’s victories have been for Republicans. Far from welcoming Bloomberg’s deep pockets and obsession with gun control, liberals should realize that he is showing the way toward a more Republican future.

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Bloomberg’s Balancing Act

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.

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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 a perceptive and fascinating piece in Capital New York, Reid Pillifant tells the story of Rep. Elizabeth Esty, “a pro-gun control Democrat who represents Newtown, Conn. She’s a member of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and a proud advocate for tougher gun control laws, including a robust new version of the federal assault weapons ban.” Despite all that, Bloomberg spent more than $1 million to help defeat her.

That’s because, as Pillifant shows, Bloomberg is caught between his sense of mission on two causes that often conflict: his “no labels” self-styled centrism and his anti-gun agenda. Though Bloomberg’s strategy is still in its early stages, he appears to favor his Save the Moderates campaign if and when he is forced to choose:

Case in point, in a district that was to take on enormous symbolic importance on the gun issue because of Sandy Hook: Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC spent $1.1 million to back Republican Andrew Roraback against Esty, with television ads touting Roraback as a “rare moderate” based on non-gun issues including abortion rights, campaign finance reform, and environmental protections.

The ad’s only mention of guns was a quote from newspaper story saying Roraback supports “better enforcement of existing gun laws,” but the narrator skipped over the word “existing.” And the ad didn’t cite the next line from the same story, when Roraback told the Record-Journal, shortly after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado: “I don’t think that more gun control is the answer.”

Around the same time, the mayor hosted a fund-raiser for Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, even though Brown was the more gun-friendly candidate in his race against Elizabeth Warren.

And, in Illinois, Bloomberg backed Robert Dold, a moderate Republican who touted his work with Bloomberg to close the gun-show loophole, against a Democratic opponent who was more comprehensively for gun control.

This will be interesting to watch because it’s a tacit admission that Bloomberg’s political passions aren’t really all that moderate. Whether it’s gun control, global warming, comically obsessive regulation or nanny-state, paternalistic experiments in social engineering, Bloomberg gets quite animated over causes that don’t quite win over the center–and often force him to either abandon those causes or run against the centrist candidates. (Just how animated does Bloomberg get over these issues? Last year, he suggested that the NYPD should perhaps go on strike and give the city a taste of punitive anarchism until politicians elsewhere pass gun control legislation to the mayor’s liking.)

As Politico reported in January, the perceived centrism is actually very important to the massive lobbying campaign he has begun. He explained to Politico that he uses his perch as mayor of New York to do the things that really interest him, and his willingness to back politicians of both parties gives him credibility with a wide swathe of the American body politic:

“The mayor of the city of New York gets great visibility,” Bloomberg said. “Being sort of nonpartisan gives you an access to both sides. Being willing to do fundraisers and give money is not without its benefits. I can’t tell you that they all jump when I call, but they do take the call. And you can go and give them a presentation and make your case. And then some I support because I respect them as human beings even though I don’t agree with them at all.”

That “sort of” modifying his description of himself as “nonpartisan” is crucial to understanding the dynamic at play in the Illinois race today, and hints at the challenges Bloomberg will face in supporting moderate politicians but not moderate policies.

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On the Dangers of Listening to Joe Biden

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:

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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:

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued an apology Thursday for Vice President Joe Biden’s comments that he wouldn’t recommend taking a commercial flight or riding in a subway car because swine flu virus can spread in confined places.

“Obviously, if anybody was unduly alarmed for whatever reason, we would apologize for that. And I hope that my remarks and remarks of people at CDC and Secretary Napolitano have appropriately cleared up what he meant to say,” Gibbs said during the daily briefing at the White House.

Just to be clear: that was the president’s press secretary reminding the press that Biden’s comments necessitated statements of correction and clarification from the head of the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control. It’s why, as popular and productive as Biden can sometimes appear, American voters have generally been unwilling to vote for Biden for president. (He’s given them plenty of chances by now, and a recent poll out of Iowa shows him trailing Hillary Clinton by a modest 50 points.)

But Biden may have topped that one. Ed Morrissey points out that Biden’s recent exhortation to Americans to buy and fire into the air a double-barrel shotgun for defense was pretty terrible legal advice, as well as counterproductive from a safety standpoint:

Anyone who has gone through a firearms safety course knows this basic rule: Never fire a “warning shot” into the air — especially when it means you have to reload immediately, as you would with two blasts from a double-barreled shotgun; you’ve just effectively disarmed yourself.

But more to the point, it ignores the physics of the ammunition.  What goes up must come down, and when it does, it can kill — and often does….

Morrissey goes on to quote today’s U.S. News and World Report story explaining that “this specific behavior has been the cause of many negligent homicides over the years,” according to a gun-rights activist. It would land the unfortunate soul who took the vice president’s exceedingly unsafe and ill-conceived advice in big legal trouble: “aggravated menacing, a felony, and reckless endangering in the first degree,” according to the story.

Morrissey closes with a fair question:

If Biden doesn’t have the common sense to understand any of the above, let alone all of the above, why should anyone trust his efforts to rewrite gun laws that limit our legal rights to self-defense?

The good news on that front is that Biden would “write” gun legislation about as much as Obama “wrote” health care reform legislation. That is to say, he wouldn’t write a word of it, and probably wouldn’t actually know what’s in it without a neat, one-page talking point summary provided by the same people who have to periodically go before the public and remind people how thoroughly dangerous–and at times, illegal–it is to follow the advice of their vice president.

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The Point of Obama’s Gun Tour

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.

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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.

The president and the vice president both say they view the proposed legislation about assault weapons and ammunition as well as background checks as a necessary response to Newtown. Yet, almost in the same breath they are forced to admit that none of it would have prevented the tragedy had it already been in place. Nor would it do much, if anything, to prevent other forms of gun violence.

To concede that point is not to render all forms of gun control as being beyond the pale. The state has the right to regulate the sale of guns in a manner consistent with public safety (for instance, private ownership of machine guns has always been illegal) and actions that would make it harder for criminals or the insane to get such weapons is not likely to be opposed by most Americans. Yet the insistence on making it harder for law-abiding individuals to buy and own guns has always been motivated more by an ideological prejudice against gun ownership on the left more than by a rational response to Newtown or any other outrageous crime.

The president and his supporters continually assure us that any further attempt to limit the right to own guns is off the table and prevented by the Second Amendment. Yet the lack of a rationale for the post-Newtown legislation leads many to not unreasonably conclude that the incident was merely the excuse that liberals are using to resurrect old proposals that have always been motivated by anti-gun sentiment.

Though there is nothing unreasonable about limits on certain types of military-style weapons or ammunition, so long as these proposals are unconnected to any plausible hope of saving lives it is quite reasonable to think that once these restrictions are made law, they will be followed by other more draconian bills that are also not tethered to a measurable goal. Under those circumstances, it will be harder to deny that what is going on is a campaign to steadily erode Second Amendment rights, not a way to stop another Newtown from happening. So long as the administration cannot assert that their gun package will actually make the country safer, it is hardly paranoid for gun rights advocates to think this is merely the thin edge of the wedge of a legislative campaign that will ultimately lead to something that will infringe on the constitutional rights of Americans.

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Political Debate As Theater

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.

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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.

On the flip side, Gingrich pressed Morgan on why he doesn’t advocate banning handguns, since the overwhelming number of gun-related homicides in America are caused not by “semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons” but handguns. And Gingrich, while conceding that he believes automatic weapons should be banned for civilian use, argued that we should be very cautious about extending to government the power to ban yet more weapons; that this step will embolden the government to further restrict the right of Americans to bear arms.

The weakest ground for Gingrich, then, was when the argument was narrowly focused on explaining why Americans should have a right to own a weapon that fires 100 rounds per minute if Americans are already banned (with some exceptions) from owning automatic weapons like machine guns. The weakest ground for Morgan was in not following the logic of his own assumptions, which would lead him to ban handguns if he could, and in not admitting how little the world would change if he got his ban on so-called assault weapons. 

As a general matter, the intensity of this debate is wildly disproportionate to the practical effects of its outcome. What we’re really talking about is precisely where to draw a line everyone concedes needs to be drawn. And whether or not we draw it where Piers Morgan wants it or Newt Gingrich wants it, it’s unlikely that very many, if any, lives will be saved. It strikes me that this is something too many people on both sides of this super-charged debate–starting with the president–won’t acknowledge.

I recognize that there’s a certain emotional satisfaction in pretending that one is either standing in solidarity with grieving parents or defending the sanctity of the Second Amendment. But that’s really not what’s happening here. It’s a public policy debate that will have very few ramifications in the real world. There’s an element to theater in this whole discussion that should end, but probably won’t.

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Why is Obama Forcing Democratic Fight Over Gun Control?

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. 

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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. 

President Obama’s gun control agenda has no real chance of getting through the House. And we all know Reid and vulnerable Democratic senators would be damaged by a vote on it. But Obama is still pushing for a vote–and putting himself at odds with Reid–just so he can have a political showdown with House Republicans that he’s almost certain to lose:

Still, if Obama follows through — and many Democrats privately question whether he will — it would represent a significant shift in his own perception of the presidency.

In his first term, the Obama rule prevailed. The White House, in tandem with a Democrat-controlled House until the 2010 midterm elections, cut complex, much-criticized deals on health care, financial regulation and the stimulus that liberals viewed as too small and too laden with tax cuts to combat the deepening recession.

The complaint by Democrats at the time: Obama was too focused on the mechanics of compromise to maximize the persuasive power of his office.

The push to regulate gun violence seems to be following a different script, more piecemeal on the policy but more consistent on messaging. In general, it augurs a more Reaganesque use of the office, a platform for Obama to shape the process through public opinion — employing the presidency’s unrivaled “power to persuade,” laid out by Richard Neustadt, the political scientist whose views shaped Bill Clinton’s approach to governing.

This still doesn’t make much sense. Americans are split evenly on the gun control issue, largely down party lines, so “public opinion” is not going to pressure many Republicans into supporting it. I also suspect gun rights supporters are more invested in the issue–and at the very least, a more powerful lobbying force–than gun control opponents. Public opinion may be evenly divided, but how many gun control supporters actually vote for their representatives based on this issue?

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Gun Control and the Obama Way

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.)

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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.)

In this instance, Mr. Obama posed the choices this way: Are members of Congress doing what it takes to “get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns? Or giving parents some piece of mind when they drop their child off to 1st grade?” It’s not that his critics believe his proposals will be worthless or even wrong. No, their motivation is to “gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.”

I happen to know people–good, decent, and thoughtful people–who disagree with me on guns. They are more absolutist on the Second Amendment than I am. And shockingly, they care about their children as much as Mr. Obama does. In fact, many of them care for their unborn children far more than Obama does.

Mr. Obama’s political libel is so common that people have come to accept it. And journalists who jump on back-benchers from the GOP for their incivility never call out Obama on his ugly little game. I wonder if Obama understands how much damage he’s doing to America’s political culture, or if he even cares.

2. As for the substance of what the president is advocating: He’s calling for expanded background checks, broader sharing of databases among law enforcement officials, more aggressive prosecutions for crimes under existing laws, prohibition of high-capacity magazine clips (like the 30-round magazines that the police said Adam Lanza used in the Newton massacre), improving mental-health reporting requirements by federal agencies, calling on the CDC to conduct research on gun violence, bans on certain types of semi-automatic rifles, and blocking the importation of certain guns made overseas. 

Most of these measures sound fairly reasonable to me. And whether or not I’m right about that, these steps do not qualify as an assault on the Second Amendment.

As Justice Antonin Scalia has pointed out in United States v. Heller, like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It leaves room to regulate guns; you don’t have a constitutional right to own a RPG or a machine gun.

What we’re talking about, then, is a prudential application of restrictions on guns. I would prefer that the president advance his agenda through legislation rather than through 23 executive orders, in order to respect the separation of powers and the role of Congress in such matters. But in terms of the substance of what he wants, I for one find the proposals to be unobjectionable and in some cases meritorious.

3. What about the slippery-slope argument? It’s true that we need to be more alert to it with some presidents than others. But as George Will once said, life is lived on a slippery slope. Taxation can become confiscation, he pointed out, and police could become Gestapos. One could invoke the slippery slope argument in order to undo seat belt laws and argue that people should be able to own machine guns and M-1 tanks. Resorting to the slippery-slope argument is often, though not always, a sign of intellectual laziness. It can also be a concession that a person doesn’t feel confident they can win on the merits of the particular case, so they decide to manufacture another debate. So an argument about restricting 30-round magazines becomes a debate about the right to bear arms, when in fact they’re separable. 

4. Having said all this, my guess is that the proposals by the president will have very modest, and almost certainly no appreciable, effect on gun violence. Most of the proposals being advocated would have done nothing to stop the mass killings of recent years–and those that directly bear on them could be relatively easily overcome by sociopaths. I’ve also pointed out before that respected studies have found that the evidence is insufficient to determine whether firearms laws are effective. I actually think that having a greater police presence at schools would do more to curb violence than anything the president is proposing. That seems to me to be an obvious conclusion; the only question is how practical and costly it might be.

All of which means the Obama proposals are, I think, fairly reasonable, but they may well prove to be nugatory. We should therefore go into this with modest expectations and pay attention to what the empirical findings show.

5. If some on the right are too critical of what the president is trying to do, then some on the left are engaged in moral posturing and an obsessive fixation with gun control. CNN, and Piers Morgan in particular, seem most guilty of this. They have devoted countless hours to the gun issue, arguing for steps that at best might be marginally effective. The heat and anger this debate is generating is odd, given that the things we’re talking about are minor changes that probably won’t have any measurable effect on violence, which itself has dropped massively since the mid-1990s.

6. In his comments today Mr. Obama mentioned that “more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun in the past month.” Is it indecorous to point out that deaths on this scale were happening during Obama’s first term, yet he didn’t lift a finger on gun control? Which, to turn the tables on Mr. Obama, raises the question: Was he cruelly indifferent to these killings? 

In addition, the president’s proposals today would have done virtually nothing to save any of those 900 lives. So why doesn’t the president endorse what from his perspective would be real steps to curb gun violence, such as those taken in Australia, where, as the New York Times points out, a 1996 mass shooting led to banning the sale, importation and possession of semiautomatic rifles and by removing 700,000 guns from circulation.

Is it that Mr. Obama has no interest in giving parents some piece of mind when they drop their child off to 1st grade? Was he afraid of taking on the NRA? Was he afraid Democrats might lose seats in Congress? Or maybe he is icily indifferent to the 6,220 people who were killed by handguns in 2011 (versus 323 by rifles). Why doesn’t the president show the political courage to argue for removing handguns from Americans in order to protect the most vulnerable among us? One possibility is that Obama, for political reasons, isn’t willing to do what most of us believe he’d like to do, which would make him no better than those he castigates.

7. One final comment on Obama’s rhetorical tricks. On both same-sex marriage and raising the debt-limit ceiling, Obama was against those things before he was for them. But Obama, being Obama, has to characterize those who hold positions he once held as moral cretins and nihilists.

Call it the Obama way. Even on those rare occasions when I find myself in agreement with Mr. Obama, I cannot help but find his haughtiness and hypocrisy a bit difficult to take. My guess is I’m not alone. 

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Gun Push Is About Second Term Momentum

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.

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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.

Senate Democrats have already signaled to the president that they are not interested in a vote on an assault weapons ban even if passing it there would put the onus on House Republicans who will vote it down if it gets to them. Though the president used dramatic rhetoric about the need for more gun regulations today, it is doubtful that invoking the victims of Newtown and other tragedies will convince Congress to pass weapons bans that won’t do much to reduce crime. Nor is the unpopularity of the National Rifle Association or their bungling attempts to push back at NRA critics enough to produce the sort of sweeping legislation that would conform to the president’s wishes.

But the use of the White House ceremony as a bully pulpit to hound Congress on guns does give the president a stick with which he can beat Republicans both this year and perhaps even next year at the midterm elections.

President Obama vowed to go the mat to get Congress to support his proposals, but this push should not be seen as unrelated to the other conflicts the White House will be having with the GOP. The rhetoric and the tone of the president’s statements about guns are clearly aimed at isolating Republicans and branding them as extremists in much the same way he has spoken about raising the debt ceiling and taxes. He clearly hopes to win at least some of the fights he is picking with them on guns just as he has did with the fiscal cliff. But even if he loses, the overall strategy here is not so much about getting any specific measures passed as it is to brand his opponents as irresponsible and heartless.

The president knows that his re-election gives him a finite amount of political capital and a limited amount of time to use it. Most of his predecessors have squandered their second terms on failed efforts, like George W. Bush’s immigration and entitlement reform proposals, and were quickly reduced to the status of lame ducks. But exploiting Newtown in this manner even if he doesn’t get his way on assault weapons has the potential to give President Obama the ability to stay on the offensive and keep Republicans off-balance and reacting to his initiatives, rather than attacking on their issues like cutting spending. With the help of an always pliant mainstream media that is happy to let liberals drape themselves in the bloody garments of the Newtown massacre, President Obama may have given himself a major momentum surge no matter what happens in Congress to this legislation.

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What is the NRA Thinking?

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. 

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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. 

That isn’t the only strange move from the gun rights lobbying group. They also released an aggressive ad about Obama’s children, calling the president an “elitist hypocrite” for opposing armed security at public schools while his own kids are protected by armed guards. It’s not that the sentiment is wrong–it’s that the ad itself isn’t politically helpful for the NRA. It comes off as fiery and partisan, during a time when many Democrats are standing up against the president’s overreach on gun control. Why intentionally antagonize Democratic allies at the very moment they’re needed most?

As Jim Geraghty noted in today’s Morning Jolt, public polling is not on Obama’s side on this issue. Americans largely support armed guards at schools, which is why the NRA’s hyper-aggressive strategy seems so unnecessary. A softer ad that focused on general child safety and stayed away from combative language would be much more helpful for the organization’s case.

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Obama to Propose Assault Weapons Ban Tomorrow

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.

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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.

It’s clear an assault weapon ban would have a very difficult time getting through the Senate, and no chance at all getting through the House. So why include it at all? Maybe because it’s one of the only proposals that is semi-related to the Sandy Hook shooting, and has major support among the president’s base. It’s also a big, shiny target for the gun lobby to go after, which means less energy will be devoted to opposing the White House’s other proposals.

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