Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Is Obama caving on gun regulation or still fighting?

Joan Walsh has an optimistic take on the recent indications that some leading Democrats may be ready now to throw in the towel on the assault weapons ban, while hoping to get universal gun registration through, Obama’s gutsy gun control push Salon 02/05/2013.

I wasn't quite so impressed with his speech yesterday, particularly when he said clearly, "We don't have to agree on everything to agree it's time to do something. That's my main message here today."

But Joan puts more weight than I did on the fact that he said in the same speech that he wanted to see a vote on the ban in Congress. And she makes the point that gun regulation now isn't so easy to dismiss as it was since 2004:

Salon's Jillian Rayfield laid out the tough sledding that’s ahead of assault-ban supporters, including the skepticism of purple state Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid, rather lordly and ineptly, said on "Meet the Press" that he didn't know if he supported Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s assault-weapons ban because he hadn’t read it yet. I know the majority leader is a busy guy, but c'mon, Harry. Maybe get someone to read it to you.

I'm tired of red- and purple-state Democrats getting a pass on gun issues because hunting, say, is popular in their states. Who could be more valuable than a red-state Democrat in telling hunters that Obama’s agenda won’t take away their hunting rifles? So I’m glad Obama's demanding that Congress vote on an assault-weapons ban rather than letting leaders table it, as he did with other first-term priorities, even if that means conservative Democrats must take some tough votes. Of course, letting conservative Democrats crush an assault ban may also serve to protect them from the NRA. That’s allegedly why Reid is open to a vote on the issue. But it could have the unintended consequence of letting those newly motivated by Newtown single out Democrats who deserve criticism, or even a primary challenge, on the issue of guns.

Dianne Feinstein insists that she will push for her assault weapons ban bill, and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who used to represent Newtown as a congressman, derided those who've declared that push futile. "Too many people in Washington want to eulogize specific pieces of gun reform legislation before the debate has even started," Murphy told "The Rachel Maddow Show." The time to act is now. [my emphasis]
Harry Reid's pro-gun-proliferation record is undoubtedly one of the problems. That's another reminder why it is such a dubious habit that Senate Democrats have adopted of making Senates from very competitive states, like Reid (Nevada) and his predecessor Tom Daschle (South Dakota) their Senate Party leaders. Whatever swing-voter appeal that might have, it means that the Democrats sometimes can't count on their Senate Party leader to support the Democratic position on a major issue. (On the other hand, there's Nancy Pelosi in the House from solid-blue San Francisco who in December was defending the idea of cutting benefits on Social Security, so go figure.)

Anyway, that's obviously a problem on this issue, though the home-state politics where Nevada Latino voters supported him for re-election in 2010 by a huge margin make it like on the immigration bill that Reid will take a harder line there.

Joan's mention of primaries is a key thing in re-democratizing the Democratic Party. Some Democrats have been making the calculation that it's safer to duck the issue of gun regulation than to deal with it. If they all know they will face a serious primary challenge if they cave on gun regulation or Social Security, their political calculations will be different.

She's right, too, about the Democrats needed to change this weasely talk about hunters and rural tradition when it comes to gun control. Diane Feinstein's proposed Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 doesn't ban shotguns or hunting rifles. And, you know, maybe people who live in urban areas - which is most Americans, BTW - just have a more realistic understanding of the realities of gun violence than Billy Bob and Mary Jane from Farmville. The folks in Farmville don't need semiautomatic AR-15's assault rifles with 30-round clips to shoot ground hawgs or to shoot the once-in-a-blue-moon burglar who tries to break into their house in the middle of the night to steal their tractor keys. If they are opposed to universal gun regulation and insisted on stockpiling military-style assault weapons and armor-piercing ammo, it really doesn't matter if it's because they are so devoted to the fond memory of Grandpa teaching them how to shoot birds when they were a child. Which I don't buy, anyway. They're opposed to realistic gun regulations.

But there was our Compromiser-in-Chief on Monday saying this: "And by the way, it's really important for us to engage with folks who don’t agree with us on everything, because we hope that we can find some areas where we do agree. And we have to recognize that there are going to be regional differences and geographic differences. The experience that people have of guns in an urban neighborhood may not be the same as in a rural community." (my emphasis) The Democrats and gun regulation advocates need to be shooting down this notion that gun regulation is some kind of urban snobbery, not scolding each other for not pandering to it sufficiently.

The Democrats let the chance to abolish the filibuster in the Senate go by. Alex Parenne explains how that's working out so far in GOP to Reid: Thanks for caving on filibuster reform, we will now destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Board Salon 02/04/2013.

Which means in practice they need a 60-vote supermajority to put through any controversial measure. If the Republican Party were deeply divided on a range of issues, that would be one thing. But they aren't. So it's really hard for me to believe that Democrats are entirely unhappy with that. Or, more precisely, there must be some Democrats in the Senate that are happy to let the Republicans block Democratic legislation that they aren't too worried about the filibuster.

With the Republicans still in obstruction mode, it seems obvious that the Democrats have to press them hard to get even decent compromise legislation through. And that means, among other things, building public support to put enough pressure on potential swing votes, including Republicans in the House, to get important measures passed.

The gun debate is a great opportunity because in it, the NRA becomes the leading face not only of the pro-gun-proliferation side but of the conservative culture war, as well. That means in particular loons like Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent, who make distinctly unappealing supporters for any cause. And that gives the Democrats the opportunity to stigmatize both at once. So making even "lost cause" stands on key issues like gun regulation, immigration and stimulus spending would have the benefit of weakening public support for Republicans and increasing the chances they can peel off enough Republican votes to get the next important measures through the House and 60-vote Senate.

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