Tomasky praises the president’s remarks (above) after the Senate’s gun-control bill failed:
Obama’s words were the most powerful he’s delivered in years. Call it failed if you want, but this was leadership: knowing that he was probably going to lose on the Hill, but putting everything he had into the fight anyway. He took on not only the NRA and its whores in Congress, he took on the blasé complacency of a pundit class that said repeatedly: he’ll never win, so why do this; he should have struck while the iron was hot; he should have talked to Republicans more. Yes, it was clear that a challenge to the NRA was likely to lose, but that isn’t what always should dictate a politician’s actions. He behaved out of conviction. This is rare enough among politicians that Obama certainly should not be nitpicked for this or that little thing he did or didn’t do.
Jacob Sullum differs:
Obama does a fine job of empathizing with the parents of Adam Lanza’s victims. But that is something any decent human being should be able to manage. Where he has trouble, despite his lip service to the idea of putting himself in the other guy’s shoes, is in empathizing with his opponents. He not only says they are wrong, which is to be expected. He refuses to concede that people who disagree with him about gun control are acting in good faith, based on what they believe to be sound reasons—that they, like him, are doing what they think is right. His self-righteous solipsism is striking even for a politician.
But the way in which the NRA re-framed the debate dishonestly was “bad faith.” And after Heller, and more than a decade of looser gun restrictions, what more do Second Amendment enthusiasts want? When you look at the balance of things – and I’m not a big enthusiast for more gun control, but see the obvious sanity of universal background checks – the NRA has taken its own achievements as the middle ground and keeps moving ever further right. They remind me of AIPAC – and they distort public policy just as toxically. Drum looks ahead:
President Obama was right to call this “round one.” This kind of thing is a long-term fight for public opinion, and only after you get the public firmly on your side do you have any real chance of passing serious legislation. So the question today for liberals is simple: Is this issue important enough to keep banging away on it for years on end, the way the NRA does? If not, nothing will ever happen.
Gun control proposals poll decently all the time. But the plain truth is that there are only a small number of people who feel really strongly about it, and they mostly live in urban blue districts already. Outside of that, pro-gun control opinion is about an inch deep. This is a classic case where poll literalism leads you completely astray. Without measuring intensity of feeling, that 90 percent number is meaningless.
Almost everybody may support background checks, but not every American knows the actual content of every bill that gets a vote. Look at health-care reform. Americans overwhelmingly favor nearly every provision of Obamacare, but oppose the law because they had a general sense of not liking it. Likewise, opponents have turned the debate into a general discussion of “gun control,” which is way less popular than a specific law about background checks. Lisa Murkowski explains her No vote thusly: “In Alaska you’re pretty much pro-gun. That about sums it up.”
Adam Winkler wonders if proposing an assault weapons ban was a mistake:
If President Obama had pushed for a law only requiring universal background checks—maybe coupled with the NRA’s proposal for more funding for school security—he might have been able to persuade Congress to consider his proposals in February, when Newtown was fresher in our collective memory. The four-month delay enabled the NRA to rally its troops—and, more importantly, its allies in Congress.
Manchin-Toomey was “branded” about as well as any gun bill can be, endorsed by a man whose state handed Barack Obama a defeat in every county and a man who spent most of his life in politics trying to primary Republicans. The watered-down bill was only as watery as a background checks bill that narrowly failed in 1999, with more Republicans supporting it. Democrats had come to view the NRA as unsavory liars who had to be beaten on something legislatively, just as they were beaten at the polls in 2016, to shift back the center of debate. They failed.