Where Hope and Change Go to Die

It happens now and then – a day with too much news. For those who like political irony, it seems that Mark Sanford can go back to hiking the Appalachian Trail – he’s been charged with trespassing, spooking around his ex-wife’s house late at night, scaring the crap out of the kids. He has to appear in court two days before that special election for the South Carolina congressional seat he should have won easily. The district is about as conservative Republican as can be, but now it doesn’t matter. The national Republican Party cut him loose – no funds for him. Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, will probably win now. Another safe seat goes down in flames, but that’s not all. The rising star of the Republican Party, Marco Rubio, the Tea-Party Cuban-American junior senator from Florida, who was going to drag his party into this century by inventing a version of immigration reform that was humane enough to help win back the long-lost Hispanic vote, but also cruel enough to satisfy the angry and resentful white-bread core of his party, ran into trouble. That bipartisan Gang of Eight, of which he was a member, did release its massive new plan for comprehensive immigration reform, and Rubio was out there talking it up. It’s not amnesty at all, really it’s not – trust me. No one trusted him – the right-wing talk radio crowd tore him to shreds – and that wasn’t supposed to happen. Nothing is easy these days.

CNN found that out. During the day they reported that the FBI had made an arrest in the Boston Marathon bombings and the suspect would be arraigned late in the afternoon, downtown at some Boston courthouse. The media rushed there. Outraged or just curious Bostonians rushed there. The scene was chaos, but nothing happened. CNN’s John King had received word of this from someone on the inside of the investigation, and others had made calls and confirmed it – perhaps talking to the same person. CNN had a scoop. The Associated Press picked it up – this was CNN after all – and then Fox News ran with it. The suspect was a “dark-skinned individual” of course – but the Boston Police and the FBI then said nope, there was no suspect and there would be no arrest, and they weren’t very kind about it. This wasn’t helpful. Add to that what everyone should have anticipated – that courthouse had to be cleared. There was a bomb threat, perhaps someone thinking of taking care of that dark-skinned individual, or perhaps some kids just fooling around. In any event, CNN had a VERY bad day. See Sloppy News Coverage Becomes News After CNN Misreports Arrest and CNN’s Boston Embarrassment: How a “Scoop” Turns Sour and Aaron Brown on CNN’s bad day: John King will “have the hardest time sleeping tonight” – three items that cover what happened well enough. John King got played. His career may be over, and journalism isn’t what it used to be, although NBC-MSNBC got it right. They checked. They reported the boring news. The police and FBI and ATF and all the rest were still working on things, slowly and methodically and carefully. It wasn’t exciting. It was just the truth.

CNN did get one arrest right later in the day – the arrest of the guy who seemed to have been sending poisonous letters, first to the bland and moderate Republican senator Roger Wicker and then to Obama, and it seems to quite a few others. The letters contained the deadly poison, ricin, or maybe not. It might have been ground-up castor beans, from which one makes ricin if one is so inclined, and handy with alkaloid extraction. That seems unlikely. The fellow wasn’t sharp. He’s from near Tupelo and mailed everything from Memphis, and the message was always the same – “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” What? And he signed all the letters the same – “I am KC and I approve this message.” The guy’s name is Paul Kevin Curtis and the feds had already had their eye on him. Apparently the guy’s a jerk, but at least now he’ll be famous, for a time. That might have been the whole point.

That’s a lot of news for one day, or non-news in a way, news about what didn’t happen or the wholly expected. The real news was something else entirely:

A wrenching national search for solutions to the violence that left 20 children dead in Newtown, Conn., all but ended Wednesday after the Senate defeated several measures to expand gun control.

In rapid succession, a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines all failed to get the 60 votes needed under an agreement between both parties. Senators also turned back Republican proposals to expand permission to carry concealed weapons and to focus law enforcement efforts on prosecuting gun crimes.

Sitting in the Senate gallery with other survivors of recent mass shootings and their family members, Lori Haas, whose daughter was shot at Virginia Tech, and Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the mass shooting in Arizona, shouted together, “Shame on you.”

President Obama, speaking at the White House after the votes, echoed the cry, calling Wednesday “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”

Gun control, gun safety if you prefer, is dead now. The nation was outraged by the Newton massacre, and the response was… nothing, nothing at all. Politics mattered more:

It was a striking defeat for one of Mr. Obama’s highest priorities, on an issue that has consumed much of the country since Adam Lanza opened fire with an assault weapon in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

Faced with a decision either to remove substantial new gun restrictions from the bill or to allow it to fall to a filibuster next week, Senate leaders plan to put it on hold after a scattering of votes Thursday. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader and a longtime gun rights advocate who had thrown himself behind the gun control measures, is expected to pull the bill from the Senate floor and move on to an Internet sales tax measure, then an overhaul of immigration policy, which has better prospects.

More than 50 senators – including a few Republicans, but lacking a handful of Democrats from more conservative states – had signaled their support for the gun bill, not enough to reach the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.

To be clear, ninety percent of Americans favor universal background checks, and the majority of the Senate would vote for that, but the minority had enough votes to block a vote on the matter, so they won.

Obama wasn’t happy:

A visibly angry President Obama tore into Senate Republicans on Wednesday for voting down legislation to expand background checks on gun sales, accusing opponents of the measure of deliberately lying to derail its passage.

“Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders not just to honor the memory of their children but to protect the lives of all of our children,” Obama said, standing alongside Vice President Biden and a handful of people whose lives had been affected by gun violence. “A few minutes ago a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it.”

He was rather blunt:

The president pointed out repeatedly that numerous polls had shown overwhelming majority support for the measure, sometimes at 90 percent or higher. He blamed Republicans for caving to pressure by the National Rifle Association, which he said “willfully lied about the bill” in order to “upset an intense minority of gun owners.”

“All in all this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Obama said.

All he could suggest was this:

“To the wide majority of NRA households who supported this legislation, you need to let your leadership and lobbyists in Washington know they didn’t represent your views on this one,” he said “The point is, those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence, will have to be as passionate and as organized and vocal as those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.”

There were, if course, interesting details:

When the vote came down – 54-46, not enough to replace the gun bill with the Manchin-Toomey compromise – an impromptu family of gun control activists was watching from the gallery. The activists looked glum but not surprised; they’d gone into the room aware that the votes weren’t there. But before she left, a survivor of the 2011 Tucson killing spree named Patricia Maisch stood up and broke the rules of the Senate.

“Shame on you!” yelled Maisch.

Typically, when someone yells from the gallery, security hustles to bounce the heckler out of the room. Maisch wasn’t elbowed out very quickly. Two years ago, she was one of the people who effectively shut down Jared Loughner’s rampage. She saw him coming, she lay on the ground, and when Loughner fumbled his reload and was tackled, Maisch snatched away his extra magazine. And no one really ushered her out of the Hill today as she told reporters why she yelled.

“I could not stay still,” she said, standing in a scrum of reporters. “They should be ashamed of themselves … if it had been a yes vote, I wouldn’t have said anything. It was spontaneous – but I was prepared to do that.”

Yeah, well, this not what Americans wanted, nor what the clear majority of the Senate wanted, but it was a defeat of Obama. He was beaten on a signature issue. He looks weak now. That’s worth offending the majority of the American people for, or so these guys seem to think. Ron Fournier at NationalJournal.com explains it all:

The defeat raises questions about Obama’s ability to unify congressional Democrats and to mobilize supporters via his nascent Organizing for Action, a first-of-its-kind political machine controlled by the White House. The president will need party unity and grassroots muscle to battle the GOP on immigration, federal spending, climate change and other White House interests.

Coming into the week, Obama’s agenda appeared to be at an important juncture – with guns, immigration, and deficit-reduction talks at various stages of progress. Winning an expansion of the background check, even as bolder gun measures failed, would have given Obama momentum to push the other two items.

Conversely, his rivals may now feel emboldened to block Obama’s entire agenda. In their most cynical moments, Republican leaders privately cheer themselves with the fact that a president’s approval rating usually suffers amid gridlock.

Yes, an a few more school massacres are a small price to pay for blocking Obama’s entire agenda. It’s a matter of perspective, although Fournier adds this:

Blame the gun lobby. Blame Republicans. Blame a handful of skittish Democrats who gave the GOP cover. Blame the entire band of demagogues who killed the modest attempt to close loopholes in a law requiring background checks for guns.

Blame them, too, for jeopardizing President Obama’s entire legislative agenda. That was the point, anyhow, right?

But don’t call this good news for Obama’s enemies, at least not yet, because under new rules of politics that are still being written, the victory could be Pyrrhic. In an era of voter empowerment and surprise, the GOP’s opposition to a popular gun regulation could backfire.

They’re taking a calculated risk, although Greg Sargent asks a question:

At what point does failure to support proposals designed to address the problems facing the country – ones backed by majorities – create a serious enough general problem for the GOP, by contributing to an overall sense that the party has simply ceased being capable of compromising on solutions to the major challenges we face? …

Is there any point at which the party’s overall image and its unpopular stances on specific issues actually do begin to matter in some concrete way? Is there any point at which it becomes clear that the current GOP strategy – make a deal with Democrats on immigration, but nothing else – is insufficient?

There’s no such point. Kevin Drum points out that moving steadily to the right has been a pretty successful strategy for the Republican Party over the past three decades:

We liberals keep thinking they can’t possibly take another step in that direction without imploding completely, and yet they keep taking step after step and they keep winning elections. They have control of the House; they have a chance to win control of the Senate in 2014; and although they’ve lost the past two presidential elections, they were both contests in which the fundamentals favored Democrats. They’ve also done very well at the state level.

Now, I do think you can make a case that Republicans have a serious problem with the presidency. The fundamentals may have been with Democrats in 1992, 1996, 2008, and 2012, but the fundamentals were with Republicans in 2000 and 2004 and they only won those elections by a whisker. That doesn’t bode well for the GOP. Nevertheless, I think I’ll wait until 2016 before I decide that they’re well and truly doomed.

Drum wonders how they’ve avoided doom so far:

Partly, I think the filibuster gets some credit, because it prevents Republicans from really and truly enacting their most extreme agenda even when they have full control of the government, as they did from 2002-2006. At some level, voters understand this even if they don’t understand Senate procedures. They understand that the loony talk from many Republicans never really translates into action, so they aren’t very worried about it.

I also suspect that Republican success has a lot to do with Democratic failure. Voters may not agree with Republican priorities, but they aren’t super thrilled with having Democrats in charge either. Rightly or wrongly, they’re still afraid that Democrats will just raise taxes in order to fund a bunch of worthless programs that they don’t understand and won’t benefit from. Whatever else you can say about them, at least Republicans will put a brake on that.

Beyond that, don’t forget that any poll’s “out of touch” numbers will include right wingers who think the GOP is too centrist. The plain fact is that about 40 percent of Americans continue to identify as conservative. That’s the same as it’s been for decades, even though the definition of conservative has moved rightward. And it’s twice as many as identify as liberal.

There’s also the other side of the equation:

Democrats continue to have a weak brand. Contra Mitt Romney, they don’t really offer voters much in the way of goodies, and even when they do offer some goodies with a program like Obamacare, they sell it so poorly that most people don’t even understand what they’re getting from it. Could that change? Maybe, though most of the big ticket social welfare programs are already in place, so there aren’t tons of goodies left to hand out. That leaves small bore initiatives, and although those might poll well, they don’t really turn out voters.

So what’s left? Social issues. That’s a liberal strong point right now, but the fact is that Republicans can adjust on social issues if they need to (gay marriage) and hang tight where they don’t need to (gun control).

It comes down to this:

Republicans aren’t paying too big a price for being viewed as “out of touch” because the American public holds that view only weakly. That could change, but I’m not sure I see any signs of it happening in the near future.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog puts it this way:

Remember that Reince Priebus Republican “autopsy”? Remember being told that the Republican Party desperately needs to change or it’ll die?

I said it was nonsense at the time and today we were reminded yet again of how nonsensical it is. Republicans in the Senate were able to keep the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal below the 60-vote threshold needed for passage; even if a handful of Democrats who voted with the GOP had voted yes, the bill still would have fallen short. And, of course, it doesn’t matter, because Manchin-Toomey would have been blocked in the House.

And no one in the Republican Party has the slightest fear that these were risky votes going into 2014 or 2016.

They really do have nothing to worry about:

We may outnumber the opponents of expanded background checks 9-1, but they vastly outnumber us in the category of “People who’d crawl naked through ground glass to cast a one-issue vote based on gun policy.”

The GOP may be in disfavor – I still say that’s mostly because it’s chic among hardcore wingnuts to say that the party isn’t conservative enough – but the right, broadly speaking, still hasn’t lost the loyalty of white heartlanders. White heartlanders still regard us as a cabal made up of nonwhites and snooty coastal elitists, and regard conservatism as Norman Rockwell’s worldview come to life.

Find a way to change that and you’ll really beat these guys.

That’s a tall order, and John Cole puts it nicely:

Overall, a pretty solid day for gun nuts and sociopaths – and aside from the NRA and GOP, mass murderers and criminals and the mentally ill who want to commit massacres win, too.

Freedom smells like cordite and the blood of young children.

To many, it does. And Washington is where hope and change go to die. A day of too much news was a day of no news.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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