Commentary Magazine


The Real Reason Gun Control Failed

Ever since the failure of the gun-control bill, President Obama’s supporters have been wondering how it is that the president could ask for something and not get it. Obama himself seemed fairly surprised by this, if his bizarre and uncomfortable statement after the vote was any indication. He lashed out at the senators who opposed the bill, but those senators were motivated by electoral concerns, which means they were nervous to cross the voters they are supposed to represent, which means the president was really lashing out at the public.

And of course the president fully understood the position of those lawmakers he was demonizing as accomplices to child endangerment. After all, the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut was not the first mass shooting of his presidency; there was one in his first term as well, but the president chose not to muster and release his righteous indignation when he still had to worry about his own re-election. And now he looked at dozens of lawmakers who acted exactly as he did and called them cowards. But today’s New York Times story on the failure of the gun bill has managed to find easily the most ludicrous explanation yet:

Robert Dallek, a historian and biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mr. Obama seems “inclined to believe that sweet reason is what you need to use with people in high office.” That contrasts with Johnson’s belief that “what you need to do is to back people up against a wall,” Mr. Dallek said.

“Obama has this more reasoned temperament,” he said. “It may well be that it’s not the prescription for making gains. It raises questions about his powers of persuasion.”

I doubt President Obama was much comforted upon reading that, because he is surely aware that “sweet reason” was the one tool he forgot to employ in his constant demagoguery on gun control. His campaign did not include arguments that the proposals would have prevented the Newtown tragedy, because they would not have. He mostly spent weeks calling people names, interspersed with especially low moments such as when he said this: “What’s more important to you: our children, or an A-grade from the gun lobby?”

Those are the only two choices in the world Obama inhabits. And it is a world devoid of “sweet reason.” Yet it should not be a surprise that Obama’s reaction to the failure of the gun bill was to show contempt for the people; as Kevin Williamson wrote in January, the administration’s obsession with theater over substance is about more than his political agenda:

You may agree 100 percent with the president’s position on gun control, but his stagey histrionics, his endless reliance upon human props, his cheap sloganeering, his emotionally driven hectoring: all of that bespeaks a very deep contempt for his audience, which is the American people. If he really believes that surrounding himself with adorable little tots is a substitute for substantive arguments for well-thought-out policy proposals, he thinks that the people — you people — are a bunch of rubes. Unhappily, 51 percent of the American people are happy to endorse his low view of them. There is something peculiar to political enthusiasts, a phenomenon I observed at both conventions this year: People in political audiences know that they are being manipulated, cynically and professionally — and they enjoy it. Obama’s admirers look up to him because he looks down on them, not in spite of the fact. There is something more at play than the mere admiration of stagecraft.

There sure is. The Times article follows a common theme in Obama’s press coverage: that he really deserves better than the people of this republic. And Obama’s admirers who, as Williamson writes, “look up to him because he looks down on them,” do so because they couldn’t agree more. Liberals look at the federal republic whose checks and balances keep standing in the way of our noble hero-president and wonder why Obama even puts up with us.

The anger at the senators who voted against the gun bill contains the perfect example: Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota. After she provided a crucial vote against the gun bill, Obama’s own former chief of staff, Bill Daley, took to the pages of the Washington Post to make a remarkable demand. In October, he donated to Heitkamp’s Senate campaign, and then she won–and voted against the gun bill. Daley’s op-ed actually opened with the following sentence: “I want my money back.”

Truly amazing. Heitkamp turned out to have far more integrity than Daley imagined when he mailed his check. But that’s the real story of the collapse of the gun bill. After the votes were counted, Politico published a reaction story which contained the following nugget:

“Bribery isn’t what it once was,” said an official with one of the major gun-control groups. “The government has no money. Once upon a time you would throw somebody a post office or a research facility in times like this. Frankly, there’s not a lot of leverage.”

This has much in common, in fact, with how the administration successfully got ObamaCare through Congress. But that was three years ago. It was the president’s first term. Times change. Bribery isn’t what it once was.

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