Subscribe via RSS Feed

The Problem With Gun Control Politics

[ 122 ] April 18, 2013 |

I guess I’m supposed to be outraged that a handful of red-state Senate Democrats cast meaningless votes against the background check bill instead of meaningless votes in favor of it.  But I’m not really, for these reasons:

Being in a position like that requires choices. You’re not going to win reelection in Arkansas by compiling a Chuck Schumer–esque voting record. You need to pick your battles. Red state Democrats need to cast votes against their party sometimes, or else they’ll be replaced by somebody who will vote against it all the time. That is a moral argument, and while it can be taken too far, the Senators in question are not taking a terribly unreasonable stance. As Politico reports, one Senator told the administration, “Guns, gays and immigration — it’s too much. I can be with you on one or two of them, but not all three.””

If you’re picking your battles, background checks are as good an issue as any to lay down. For one thing, as I’ve suggested, guns loom disproportionately large in the political world of red state Democrats. Guns are the way they signal home state cultural affinity, giving themselves a chance to get their economic message heard. Their A rating from the National Rifle Association is powerful shorthand. And yes, the NRA is crazy and partisan, and was opposing a bill it used to support and that most Republicans support. But none of those facts overcomes the blunt reality of the A rating’s political value.

What’s more, this particular gun vote was an especially good time for Democrats to defect. None of them cast the deciding vote; it fell six votes shy of defeating a filibuster. The bill was already a compromise of a compromise, something that would have stopped a tiny fraction of gun crimes. Even if it passed the Senate, it faced steep odds of passing the House, where it probably would have died, been weakened further, or even turned into a law that weakened existing gun laws.

The last point is particularly important. The fact that the votes were meaningless two ways — not only because they wouldn’t have been enough to break a filibuster but because the legislation was DOA in the House — makes this an easy call; I really don’t understand the point of putting Senate seats at risk in exchange for absolutely nothing.

The more interesting question is whether Reid and Obama should have pulled out all the stops in a hypothetical alternative in which Democrats still controlled the House and had the votes to break a filibuster. In the case of something like the PPACA, if some red-state Democrats have to give up their seats the sacrifices have to be made; there’s no point in keeping the seats blue if you’re never going to do anything. But the effects of the gun control legislation being considered here were likely to be so trivial that it’s not obvious that risking red-state Democratic seats would be worth it. But in that scenario, there’s at least a debate to be had. When the benefits of voting against your district are “none,” though, the choice is pretty easy.

Comments (122)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. aimai says:

    I get the argument in favor of “letting” weak votes go on a weak bill whose long term implications were bad–but thenI don’t get the idea of letting Toomey and Manchin control the debate about what is at stake. It makes more sense to view this first vote as a “loss leader” in which the Democrats stake out a strong, losing, position for extremely rational and strong gun laws:

    Registration
    Background Checks
    Periodic re-registration analagous to driver’s liscences
    Insurance requirements + a dedicated fund to pay for gun owner education and victim’s reparations.

    If Obama and the Dems had put that up they would be in no more trouble than they are already and they would have signaled to the imagined 90 percent who back sensible gun laws that they are trying to solve a real problem and that the Republicans are not trying. The pre-compromise compromise which no one could understand and which everyone hated just muddied the waters, pissed off everyone, and didn’t do a damned bit of good.

    I just watched one of the home videos shot by a querulous texas couple driving down the road to the refinery fire–they are oblivious to it but their radio is tuned to a hysterical guy calling in to say “Obama wants to take our guns and I just don’t know what to think anymore.” You can’t make a dent in the stupidity of the NRA and its blind believers.So stop trying. Lay out a plan for serious gun regulation that will lower the death toll from unintended/inept/negligent firearms handling and let the chips fall where they may.

    • Dana Houle says:

      Manchin and Toomey leading the debate was probably a very good political move. If even this is too radical for the radicals in the GOP, there’s no way anything good could actually pass without a big change in the political environment. To change the political environment, it will have to really, really sink in to the very obstinate and uninformed swing voters–including a lot of moderately well-to-do suburbanites–that the GOP is radical, that it really isn’t “both sides can’t come together.”

      This is being reported as “a bipartisan bill drafted by moderates was blocked by the Republicans, with help from a few red state Democrats.” That’s probably the best we can get out of this, probably the best we were ever going to get out of this, at least until 2015 at the earliest.

      It may also have been important to engage Bloomberg. Maybe now he’ll really start to understand it’s not in any meaningful sense “both parties,” that with only a few exceptions it’s the Republicans, and it’s against them, if he’s going to put up, that the bulk of his money should be spent.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      But was it known from the beginning that a compromise bill couldn’t pass?

      Maybe everyone should have known that there was nothing that could pass, but there were a lot of people, myself included, who thought that there was a real chance at this particular time.

      • R. Johnston says:

        Yes, it was known from the beginning that a compromise bill was DOA in the House regardless, and passing the Senate was of vastly less political importance than staking out a sensible and politically useful position. If you’re going to have a symbolic vote it may as well actually symbolize something.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Yes, it was known from the beginning that a compromise bill was DOA in the House

          But we’re not talking about the House.

          passing the Senate was of vastly less political importance than staking out a sensible and politically useful position

          This is a matter of opinion (and a very questionable one), so it really couldn’t be “known.” The Noble Defeat looms large in certain people’s minds, but the defeat of a bill is at least as likely to be a boon to its opponents, who get to crow about the extremism and cast the defeat as a rejection of the cause in its entirety.

  2. comptr0ller says:

    Regulating the internet arms market may have a marginal affect on gun violence, but the symbolism of making an effort is important, even in gun-loving states. As it stands U.S. is now complicit in (or turning the other cheek on) interstate arms commerce, which is largely conducted via the privacy of the internet.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/17/us/seeking-gun-or-selling-one-web-is-a-land-of-few-rules.html

  3. kgus says:

    Thanks for the sanity. When the possibility of progressive legislation opens up every couple of generations or so you have to think strategically, not tactically.

  4. I really don’t understand the point of putting Senate seats at risk in exchange for absolutely nothing.

    Purity, silly.

    • Random says:

      You can easily vote for cloture, then vote against it. It’s not about purity, it’s about tactics. Filibustering your own party is about as stupid as it gets. At least one of those Senators (Mark Pryor) ended even a remote chance of winning in 2014 yesterday, which ironically is the same mistake Lincoln from the same state made with ACA.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        You can easily vote for cloture, then vote against it.

        I don’t know, man. The difference between a cloture vote and a vote-vote seems lost on most people. The Republicans have been talking about bills with 54, 55, 58 votes as “not being able to pass” and “nonstarters” for four years, and everybody seems to accept that.

        • Brandon says:

          NPR even covered it this way, saying it “fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass.” Liberal media!

          • UserGoogol says:

            “Failed to pass” seems like a fine phrase. It didn’t pass, after all, so in that sense it failed to do so. The catch is that it failed to pass because of failing to meet the threshold to meet cloture, rather than being explicitly voted down.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        You can easily vote for cloture, then vote against it. It’s not about purity, it’s about tactics.

        Except, of course, that everybody who cares understands that the vote on cloture is the vote that actually matters. For obvious reasons, nobody gives Lieberman any credit for him nominal no vote on the bankruptcy bill.

        • I fully endorse the idea of giving Lieberman no credit. Ever.

        • Random says:

          Except, of course, that everybody who cares may actually vote for you understands that the vote on cloture is the vote that actually matters.

          In no way shape or form can you argue that losing a bunch of votes and getting absolutely no new votes is smart politicking. These Democrats are extremely politically stupid and at least one of them (Pryor) is now guaranteed to lose his seat next year because of this.

          (Lieberman’s a bad example because he was already the single most unpopular Democrat in Congress.)

          • joe from Lowell says:

            In no way shape or form can you argue that losing a bunch of votes and getting absolutely no new votes is smart politicking.

            It must be nice to live in a world where you never have to understand the phrase “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” If your only options are to lose a smaller number of votes and lose a larger number of votes, it is very easy indeed to argue that losing the smaller number of votes is smart politicking.

            These Democrats are extremely politically stupid

            Maybe, but my inclination is to think that the people who actually got elected as Democrats from red districts are probably more politically knowledgeable than some guy on a comment thread, especially when said guy is arguing that the objectively smartest move from a political perspective just happens to line up perfectly with his own policy preferences.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            In no way shape or form can you argue that losing a bunch of votes and getting absolutely no new votes is smart politicking.

            In case anyone needs to know what the phrase “begging the question” means when used properly.

        • Don Dresser says:

          Not to mention all of these votes were structured as actual votes on the amendments. The rule under which things were being considered required a 60-vote majority for the amendments to pass – but the vote being taken was a vote on the item itself, not a procedural vote. (This momentary geeky interlude on details of Senate procedure is now over – feel free to discuss more interesting things. As if you need my permission.)

        • mds says:

          For obvious reasons, nobody gives Lieberman any credit for him nominal no vote on the bankruptcy bill.

          On the other hand, national NARAL and Planned Parenthood gave him gobs of credit for voting against Alito, even endorsing him in the Dem primary, despite his vote for cloture. Of course, this is still apples-and-oranges, because such a gambit is only possible if cloture is successfully invoked.

          • UserGoogol says:

            2006 was a long time ago, as far as this sort of thing is concerned. The sixty vote Senate hadn’t fully developed by that point, so although there was a serious attempt to filibuster Alito, it just wasn’t the same environment.

  5. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    But the outrage _is_ the significant political result in this case, Scott.

    Gun control politics at the grassroots looks like this: vast majorities of the public support things like expanded background checks, but because their preferences are, in effect, much weaker than the preferences of the 10% who oppose background checks, the 10% control marginal votes in the Senate.

    So the purpose of exercises like this is precisely to mobilize and outrage the 90%. That their outrage is (for reasons you point out) a bit irrational is beside the point. The outrage of the 10% is entirely irrational, but that doesn’t limit its political effectiveness.

    • LeeEsq says:

      There is a difference between supporting something and really wanting it. Vast majorities due support background checks etc. but not with the same passions as the people who oppose it. The people who oppose it really want to oppose it.

      • I think the point of the post is that while outrage over the failure of gun control legislation is perfectly appropriate, transferring that outrage to a few Dems who acted strategically in the face of clear failure is probably ill-directed.

        • Pierre Gervais says:

          No it’s not. Actually organizing to beat these specific Senators is the road to Salvation, as demonstrated again and again by the Tea Party Thughs. If we can’t keep ‘em in line, there is no hope. And I seem to remember some worthy pundits on this very blog calling for working from within the Democratic Party…

          PG

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Actually organizing to beat these specific Senators is the road to Salvation, as demonstrated again and again by the Tea Party Thughs.

            So your argument is that the Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell Senate races, as run by the Republicans, are the model one should follow for political salvation.

            • Pierre Gervais says:

              You may have noticed how the entire Republican delegation became very Tea Party thugh-friendly in the past five years. And you may have noticed that the Republican Party, while losing national elections, has maintained a pretty impressive amount of institutional power out of sheer discipline, and even though their political program (“we hate anybody who is not a rich a**hole”) did not seem very attractive.

              How about learning some lessons from their, ahem, success? Plus, if we do have a more attractive platform (which i hope everybody here will accept), maybe being disciplined in pushing it will actually lead to even better results?

              PG

              • joe from Lowell says:

                You may have noticed how the entire Republican delegation became very Tea Party thugh-friendly in the past five years.

                So your answer is “Yes, the Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell campaigns are examples of how to achieve political salvation.”

                Good for you.

                And you may have noticed that the Republican Party, while losing national elections, has maintained a pretty impressive amount of institutional power out of sheer discipline

                It’s only “pretty impressive” given the loss of those national elections. You know what would have been an even more impressive amount of institutional power? Winning the Senate, which they would have done in both 2010 and 2012 if they hadn’t followed your model of “political salvation.”

                The Republicans only have an impressive amount of institutional power for a party that keeps losing national elections.

                • Pierre Gervais says:

                  OK, replace “political salvation” by “political clout” if that helps, but please let’s keep in mind that the present blog is dominated by people arguing that the Democratic Party must be changed from within, and if you want to do that, yes, blowing up a few Blue Dogs or related critters is indeed the only way I can see, the Power of Truth, like converting Heidi to gun control, being apparently woefully insufficient.

                  On your second point, I am afraid I find the current Republican Party even more impressive than that: it managed to force on the “Democratic” majority its entire foreign affairs policy, and 3/4 of its economic policy. And before everybody goes a-wailin’, I am NOT arguing that the two sides are the same: simply that by staying on message, and ruthlessly going after those of their own who departed from it on certain key symbolic issues, the U.S. extreme-right has managed to largely win the day, and dominate the argument, so far. They learned that from us. Could we, maybe, learn it back?

                  And yes, Obama won in 2012, and I am bleedin’ thankful for that. However, the Republicans did not lose in 2010 and 2012 because they were disciplined and on message; they lost because their message was crazy. Are you arguing that the left of the Democratic Party is crazy?

                  PG

            • Even this is giving him too much credit, as even ceding that it’s a great way to change the composition of the Democratic Senate caucus does absolutely nothing to tell us how refusing to suffer any heterodox red state Democratic Senators is going to drive the Republican controlled House to support reasonable gun control laws.

              • Pierre Gervais says:

                “Great way”, even I wouldn’t say that. Let’s make it “only way I see”. And I don’t get the reason for the sudden rhetorical jump to the House, but I will bite, and point out that mobilizing the 90% Buttocks was mentioning at the top of this sub-thread may be a good way.

                Heterodox is a bit rich for me, though. Were Dixiecrats heterodox as well? Maybe Johnson should have tolerated them… If opposing watered-down gun control does not cross the line from heterodoxy into jumping ship, I really don’t know what a “Democrat” is any more.

                And then there is the whole issue of what is lost by not opposing these “Democrats”. My entire Rush-Limbaugh lapping, Fox-News 24/7 crowd of in-laws operate on the assumption that the Democrats are unprincipled weasels. Which is partly justified if the party blithely embraces unprincipled weasels…

                PG

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Johnson’s rejection of the Dixiecrats was quite honorable and good.

                  But as a means of acquiring political salvation, it leaves something to be desired.

                • Johnson also had the votes to tell the Dixiecrats to go fuck themselves, which is a fairly large difference here. I mean, if the votes had existed in the Senate and House to get this passed, then I would be totally amenable to the “fuck these assholes” position, no matter how small UBC is as a policy matter. But since having all of them vote with the party still wouldn’t have passed the bill, this is just a purity party in the, erm, purest form.

                • Pierre Gervais says:

                  The Dixiecrat reference was meant to point out that something may look disastrous within a certain time frame (say, 1968-2008), and then end up not being so disastrous after all (2008-2012).

                  Thirty years is a long time, and I can understand why an elected official will have a hard time seeing beyond the next election. But the whole point of having a political party, with a political party base (like, um, us), is to provide processes whereby these elected officials will get their a** kicked if they lose sight of the Party’s greater goal (which is not “elect as many officials as possible regardless of what they think”).

                  This is a clea-cut case where a**-kicking is required, the alternative being having no party at all. It is not a choice between a “pure” and an “impure” Democratic Party, merely a choice between a meaningful and a meaningless Party organization.

                  Keeping in mind that elected officials are structurally trying to weasel their way out of that type of choice. It’s our damn job to remind them from time to time that there are choices to be made…

                  PG

                • rea says:

                  Shorter PG–My way will bring us victory! In 2053 . . .

                • And nothing important will happen in the interim!

                • GeoX says:

                  Yes, well, if anyone else would offer any other plausible solutions to the fact that we’re anchoring our fates to a woefully shitty political party, maybe excessively long-term thinking wouldn’t seem necessary. Put or, alternatively, shut, up.

                • Anonymous says:

                  Considering how not opposing triangulation and Blue Dog Democrats worked for the Democratic Left in the past twenty years, I must say I could easily drift into sarcasm as well…

                  All we have to show for our infinite forbearance is the Heritage Foundation version of universal health coverage, which is not nothing, but hardly justifies losing the political debate for another twenty years.

                  Except, of course, if “winning” is defined as “electing anybody who will bear the label Democrat even if they are way to the right of Rockfeller Republicans”…

                  PG

      • Shakezula says:

        The people who oppose it really want to oppose it are really loud bullies and fear mongers.

        Fixed.

        • LeeEsq says:

          Both your version and my version are accurate. I think that a lot of support for gun control is more along the lines of “yeah, that’ll be great” rather than “we must absolutely pass this legislation because it is essential to our safety as a nation and society.” The opponents of gun control are more like “we must oppose all gun control legislation no matter how minor least our guns be taken away and our civilization goes down.”

      • Ed says:

        There is a difference between supporting something and really wanting it. Vast majorities due support background checks etc. but not with the same passions as the people who oppose it. The people who oppose it really want to oppose it.

        That’s what Incontinentia said. If the majority get off their duffs and get angry, then something good may come out of this in the long term. At least we have some new state laws in place.

  6. joe from Lowell says:

    When you put it like that, I guess it makes sense that you’re not outraged, but look:

    This bill started out with all sorts of ponies – magazine limits and AWB and background checks and all sorts of things. That was a bridge too far, so it was modified to make it more palatable to people like the Defecting Four. Then it was watered down again for them. Then again.

    And they still wouldn’t vote for it!

    That’s irritating..

    • Shakezula says:

      Yep. Per J. Chait:

      The background check law’s failure is maddening not because passing it would have made an enormous difference, but for the opposite reason: it is such a tiny, obviously sensible step. The tininess of the step, in comparison with its disproportionate political symbolism, is why it was a perfect case for red state Democrats to defect.

      It’s like Goldilocks, innit?

      “This step is TOOO BIG. This step is TOOOO SMALL…”

      So either there’s a theoretical bill that could have passed muster with the Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the NRA GOP but been a big enough step to make it worth the risk for the Red State Ds, in which case, please share.

      Or, there’s no such bill and the foregone conclusion is of course the Red State Ds voted against it. In which case, I guess he had to string words together about something.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      But would they have voted for it had Ayotte and a couple more Republicans defected? I think that’s possible. But I have no idea what good comes from them voting for a bill that wouldn’t have even passed the Senate (let alone become a statute) had they all voted for it.

      • Shakezula says:

        But I have no idea what good comes from them voting for a bill that wouldn’t have even passed the Senate (let alone become a statute) had they all voted for it.

        I’m wondering why people say this? I mean, there are countless instances of legislation that looks DOA turning around. ACA? I wouldn’t have dared to call that and I had to study the damn thing forever. Ditto the end of DADT.

        Maybe, as has happened in the past, a preliminary showing of balls would have encouraged later showing of balls and you could have had a snowball effect of balls showing. Sorry, I could not resist the word play.

        But I guess we won’t find out this time around.

        • Pierre Gervais says:

          hear, hear!

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Well, in those cases there was, in fact, a lot of a lot of maneuvering and the “naturally in play” numbers were closer. Plus, there was Dem control of the House.

          But here…are you really going to get enough Republicans to vote for gun control to get to 60? By snowballing? Indeed, it might go the other way, opposition hardens because now they have an ad against *all* the Democrats, including the most vulnerable.

          In the end, you have to make calls. Maybe they made the wrong call right now. But if we always have to “try and see”, then, well, we will lose more seats. We shouldn’t avoid moves that lose seats if they are important enough, but, as Scott says, it’s hard to see the path to a statute towards the end.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Hmm. Let me be more cautious: I think you need to make a case that 1) snoballing in the right direction was reasonably likely to happen and 2) the rest of the chain was feasible.

            I don’t think you just get to say, “Well it MIGHT HAVE WORKED!!!” as if that was analysis. Sure, it’s possible, but we have to base our decisions on more than mere possibility.

            • Shakezula says:

              No really, I was asking what is the basis for statements that such and such bill didn’t have a prayer. I see it a lot and I always wonder how and why. Is it just speculation or is there something more?

              The second part was me making a dreadful pun on balls to present a scenario in which the bill might have passed. But I can’t think of an instance when a Congress critter has said “Well, I wasn’t going to vote that way but then Tom, Dick and Harry did and I thought what the heck …” because no one wants to be seen as a chicken shit, so yes, it is purely speculative.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                No really, I was asking what is the basis for statements that such and such bill didn’t have a prayer. I see it a lot and I always wonder how and why. Is it just speculation or is there something more?

                My first guess would be “the House” which, after all is a key difference in your other examples.

      • NickT says:

        I don’t think there was any chance of Ayotte defecting. She’s cast her lot with the teabagger crazies and she’s not turning back now.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        But would they have voted for it had Ayotte and a couple more Republicans defected? I think that’s possible.

        It is. It’s also possible that, absent these Democratic defections to give them cover, a couple of Senate Republicans might have flipped.

  7. Random says:

    The smart thing to do is vote for cloture and then vote against the bill, nobody will blame you.

    It’s politically stupid, however to filibuster your own party’s majority. These red-state Democrats did not win even one single GOP vote yesterday but did lose large swathes of Democratic votes.

    And the NRA/GOP will run ads against them in 2014 accusing them of being gun-grabbers anyway. It’s basically what you thought the GOP would be able to do with the CPI thing, only unlike the CPI gambit the GOP can actually accuse the Dems of being ant-gun and themselves as pro-gun and everyone will believe it.

    Mark Pryor in particular ended his political career yesterday, you can go ahead and stick a fork in him now. Hopefully he can be persuaded to step down and let Beebe run in his place. If not, that’s one Senate seat that is guaranteed to flip to the GOP in 2014.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      It’s politically stupid, however to filibuster your own party’s majority. These red-state Democrats did not win even one single GOP vote yesterday but did lose large swathes of Democratic votes.

      Rightly or wrongly, they’re counting on the fact that even the most liberal Democrat will still vote for a Democrat-in-the-NRA’s-backpocket over a Republican-in-the-NRA’s-backpocket. And my guess is that’s a pretty good bet under present political circumstances.

      Similarly, there’s no general cost to filibustering one’s own party because: a) the public doesn’t really understand or care about procedural issues; b) the public only very rarely has the opportunity to choose to vote for an opponent of filibuster abuse (and, when the Democratic Senator is a proponent of filibuster abuse, that “very rarely” is a substantial understatement).

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Yes.
        And THIS is why we can’t even move towards getting slightly nicer things, let alone really nice things!

      • R. Johnston says:

        They’re also counting on the fact that the Democratic party won’t financially back a primary challenger to “Democrats” who defect on important cloture votes.

        That’s a fact they absolutely shouldn’t be able to count on so long as filibuster reform hasn’t happened yet.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          They’re also counting on the fact that the Democratic party won’t financially back a primary challenger to “Democrats” who defect on important cloture votes.

          Which in this case, would be idiotic, since 1)primarying any of these four senators in favor of a pro-gun control candidate would almost certainly fail and would hand the seat over to the Republicans if it succeeded, and 2)there votes were not in fact important, which is presumably a major reason that Reid didn’t try to put he hammer down.

          • Anonymous says:

            See above. Working within the Democratic Party to change it, a perennial position at LGM, means indeed primarying these four senators, and losing their seats. It would not be idiotic: it would be like accepting the idea that Dixiecrats should not be allowed to remain in the democratic Party, if you will allow me this not entirely irrelevant historical reference.

            By the way, how did that last one turn out? For thirty years, badly: the “Southern Strategy” was a winner. In the long run, though, the U.S. has an African-American President. So I guess we even have an empirical test!

            PG

            • Anonymous says:

              Sorry, for some reason I turned into “anonymous”. Will fix that.
              Pierre Gervais

            • That you’re ignoring the whole “wouldn’t have passed anyway” bit seems rather telling.

            • djw says:

              Working within the Democratic Party to change it, a perennial position at LGM, means indeed primarying these four senators, and losing their seats.

              I’m open to the argument that primarying when you’re going to lose (or increase chances of a loss) if you win is potentially part of a defensible long term strategy, but there are lots of hills to die on, and you should choose them with care, beyond “Because it’s the one I’m on right now, and I’m angry”. An inconsequential vote on a minor, DOA bill doesn’t seem like a particularly good one. Especially for someone like Begich, who hasn’t been much of a troublemaker compared to many of his red state colleagues, and has an approval rating that suggests a decent chance for reelection.

              • Pierre Gervais says:

                I think we have a misunderstanding here. The point of disciplining these four Senators, in my view, is not to achieve passage of legislation which I believe was dead, not even on arrival, but at conception. The point is to reaffirm certain core values which enable the Democratic Party to be a Party with a political base (and eventually, down the road, grow enough to pass the very legislation which was rejected this month). The core values involved in the Newtown vote are not even that controversial, so refusing to endorse them means that you can be in the Democratic Party and think pretty much whatever as long as you win an election.

                Call me an idiot all you like, but I cannot for the life of me see why would anybody want to be managing a national Party without the least concern toward a modicum of ideological coherence and programmatic contents.

                To put it as succinctly as I can: the point is not this particular legislation. The point is its symbolic value within whatever is left of the Democratic Party as a political project. If even that can’t get the Party to unite, then nothing will -and the pompous calls I read all the time for a transformation of the Party are nothing but empty noises made over a dead, rotten shell.

                PG

                • You’re an idiot.

                • djw says:

                  Yeah, that’s not going to work. You want to destroy the regional/local character of US politics and force the US into being a country where all politics is national by throwing some money at a few primary challengers? Good luck with that.

                • Hogan says:

                  the Democratic Party as a political project.

                  I think I see the problem.

                  The Democratic Party is not a political project. Never has been and likely never will be. It’s something between a loose political coalition and a network of kinship and client/patron relationships. And in the short and medium run you’re not going to make it more successful by msking it smaller, so you need to think seriously about the downside of making it smaller at this particular moment, because right now an important part of the other coalition wants you dead.

                • Anonymous says:

                  You’re an idiot.

                  Now that’s a powerful argument! I am convinced.

                  More seriously, “coalition” politics does not mean “purely local politics”. I don’t remember proposing doing away with the local character of politics in the U.S., just not forgetting that’s it is still politics, that there is also (not only) a national dimension, and that a coalition coalesces around something.

                  And I am very surprised to learn that the Democratic Party has never been a political project. Again, last time I looked, and not going all the way back to James Buchanan, FDR had a political project; LBJ had a political project; and Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama would not have been elected without some kind of project around which to rally the Party and their voters, however diverse.

                  That even discussing the current state of the Party project, and the boundaries it creates for an elected official if she wants to call heserlf a “Democrat”, will end up in name-calling, injunctions to drop the topic, and assertion that it doe not even exist, is somewhat discouraging, I must say.

                  PG

                • djw says:

                  And I am very surprised to learn that the Democratic Party has never been a political project.

                  Political projects have been attempted–and succeeded!–using the Democratic Party as a tool.

                  But never mind that–your plan to remake it as an entirely different kind of party than it is by throwing a few dimes at some (probably doomed) primary candidates is like me saying I plan to climb Mount Everest, and I’m taking action on this plan by buying new shoes.

                • Pierre Gervais says:

                  Well, it’s better than trying to climb it barefoot -and at least it provides a starting point, and statement of intent. This week-end, I plan to climb the 5 flights of stairs to my place w/ my new shoes. Will keep you posted!

                  PG

              • Pierre Gervais says:

                Oops sorry. Dropper the “Pierre Gervais” again
                PG

        • Murc says:

          They’re also counting on the fact that the Democratic party won’t financially back a primary challenger to “Democrats” who defect on important cloture votes.

          As well they shouldn’t.

          Party funds should never, EVER be deployed to primary challengers. Ever. That includes incumbents. I would even go so far as to say that aside from making sure they’re run fairly, party machinery shouldn’t be deployed to primary challengers. I mean, what the hell happens if their chosen on loses?

          Political primaries should be run in as bottom-up a fashion as humanly possible. I can guarantee you that if the political party starts anointing chosen candidates prior to them winning a primary, it will not be in favor of progressive challengers.

      • José Arcadio Buendía says:

        Rightly or wrongly, they’re counting on the fact that even the most liberal Democrat will still vote for a Democrat-in-the-NRA’s-backpocket over a Republican-in-the-NRA’s-backpocket.

        No, they’re counting on the fact that they will lose less of the liberal Democrats than they will gain in the “middle.” There’s more than that though. Some of these “red state Democrats” have a seat for life if they want it, like Baucus. I think some of them just want to be “independent” because POWR!

        • Random says:

          will lose less of the liberal Democrats than they will gain in the “middle.”

          Virtually everyone who is a ‘gun-rights’ voter is a GOP voter and will never vote for a Democrat under any circumstances. There are ‘gun control’ votes who are in the middle, but there are no ‘gun rights’ votes in the middle.

          Voting against one of the most popular legislative items since the invention of mass polling is not ‘winning the middle’, it’s political suicide for Democrats and they absolutely screwed themselves. Mark Pryor is definitely toast because of this one vote. Baucus can maybe get away with it. We’ll have to see about Heidekamp.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Virtually everyone who is a ‘gun-rights’ voter is a GOP voter and will never vote for a Democrat under any circumstances. There are ‘gun control’ votes who are in the middle, but there are no ‘gun rights’ votes in the middle.

            In the states in question, this is in fact highly questionable.

          • djw says:

            Mark Pryor is definitely toast because of this one vote.

            You’ve asserted this half a dozen times. (I was pretty much assuming he was toast regardless, myself). Can you walk me through why you think this vote substantially decreased his chances at re-election?

      • Random says:

        they’re counting on the fact that even the most liberal Democrat will still vote for a Democrat-in-the-NRA’s-backpocket over a Republican-in-the-NRA’s-backpocket. And my guess is that’s a pretty good bet under present political circumstances.

        That’s a pretty awful bet in present political circumstances. Remember when you said the GOP would use CPI on the Democrats in 2014? That argument didn’t make much sense on that issue considering the entire GOP voted and re-voted and demanded the CPI adjustment for months on end, and cutting social programs and being obstructionist are existing frames about them in the first place. That’s not the case even remotely on guns.

        The NRA will fund ads against every one of the Democrats who voted against this bill in 2014 regardless of which way they vote. They will finance ads for their GOP challengers.

        These Democrats won absolutely zero votes yesterday, while simultaneously losing exactly those voters that were most likely to show up in a mid-term for them.

        Losing voters is bad strategy, bad. Bad.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Actually, the NRA is happy to support Democrts who consistently back their agenda (just ask John Dingell, e.g.), though I agree that this one vote isn’t enough to earn an “A” or “A+” rating from them.

          But that has nothing to do with what I say above, which concerns the vanishingly small number of single-issue, pro-gun-control voters. Do you have any numbers to back up your claim that significant numbers of voters, who’d otherwise vote for these Senators, will refuse to do so on the basis of this vote?

          • djw says:

            Yeah, Random, you’re way off base about the NRA. Their willingness to substantively and seriously support red state Democrats has been a non-trivial part of their successful strategy over the years. And there are voters, mostly blue collar rural white men, who will vote for Democrats if they feel OK about their stance on guns. There are many here in Ohio, and also states like WV and Arkansas. You’re just wrong about the political coalitions here.

  8. Pierre Gervais says:

    I suppose the idea of “we are a national party, losing a few local seats, even in the World. Greatest. Deliberative. Body™, is nothing next to actually backing a program which may end up cementing us into power for the next 40 years” is too complicated a notion for Democrats. Interestingly, it is not so for Republicans — they didn’t seem to hesitate a bit in taking a position which will put at leat some of them at risk, in order to cement their own coalition. To put it another way: “Every elected official for herself” is a lousy, lousy motto for a political party…

    And by the way, if the Democrats can’t operate as a national party on an issue on which 90% of the population agree, what hope is left that they will behave so on pretty much any other issue?

    PG

    • José Arcadio Buendía says:

      Agreed. Except this: as long as their is a filibuster, this is what Senators will do. They are members of a party, sure, but like the President they have their whole own agenda first, (D) is lower on the list. This isn’t the case in the House as much where they at least need a “caucus” if they are going to defy leadership on anything especially procedural votes.

      We don’t just need to eliminate the filibuster, we need to eliminate the senate.

    • Shakezula says:

      This is why I snorted avec derision at the cri de coeur about guns, gays & immigration. Better gun safety was the easy choice.

      • mds says:

        Better gun safety was the easy choice.

        Yeah, Jon Tester was perfectly able to make a reasonable case for Yea. Granted, he just won an election, but so did Heidi Heitkamp.

  9. Pierre Gervais says:

    Sorry, this boils my blood over. “A handful of Red-State Democrats” signalled that they would follow the Republican line whenever they damned pleased, and would not be interested in overall Democratic Party programs, after having been put in office with the help of Democratic money and activists. Should we be outraged? Yep. How about a little jail time for false advertising?

    PG

  10. José Arcadio Buendía says:

    Two things:

    (1) Not all red states are created equal. That’s why some of them have Democratic senators in the first place. Nor are all blue states. You’re assuming that the net difference of base voters versus gun voters is decisive in all of those elections. Maybe it is, I can’t be sure. Can you?

    (2) The NRA ‘A’ rating has become a moving target. This is the fundamental problem of kowtowing to the demands of the other side. Once you agree to something, they move the goal posts. If 90% of people are for background checks, then an ‘A’ rating from them should matter.

    Clearly, the House was never going to pass this bill, so it never should have been voted on in the first place, much less if it was never going to make 60. The Republicans knew that and dangled the motion to proceed and then screwed the Dems. Lucy, football. Same old trick.

  11. Dave says:

    Do their constituents really care that much about this issue? And if they do, were they getting their votes anyway? Or is it more a fundraising issue. Though, why would the NRA fund a Dem in a red or purple state who might vote against their interests every once in a while when they can fund a Rep who will never vote against them?

    I’m not seeing the overwhelmingly compelling reason Dems should vote against this stuff, unless a shit-ton of their constituents place a very high saliency on this issue. And even then, I’m not sure why you can’t just as forcefully make the argument for more regulation as your opponent will against it. I think this could be an instance in which already risk-averse politicians are being too risk-averse.

  12. Jeffrey Beaumont says:

    I agree, these were throw-away measures. Really all of the gun control laws being bandied about at the moment are weak. The smaller magazines is clearly the strongest. Tougher registration and background checks is fine, but wouldnt stop Sandy Hook or Aurora or most any others. The assault weapons ban, in its last incarnation, was a silly law that resulted in the same assault rifles being sold minus such pivotal features as bayonet lugs and “flash suppressors”. Enacting any of these isnt going to do much, they simply arent serious gun control measures.

    Serious measures would both stop the sale of new really destructive weapons (maybe no new semi-autos of any sort?) and try to reduce the number of guns already out there (a well-funded buy back program paying above market price). Anything else is just symbolic.

    • Pierre Gervais says:

      See above: a political party is definitely about symbols (I don’t know if it so first and foremost, or if symbols are just a close second). How many are we around here thinking that “symbolic” is not the same as “empty”? And can actually turn into “winning lots of stuff for your side, even though it does not look that way fo you personally at first”?

  13. Shakezula says:

    The other thing I don’t get with this line of … reasoning is the the timing (or lack of timing). Red State Dem X votes Yes today. And time passes and time passes and then there’s an election. But Chait posits that the outrage and the political damage will be just as hot and fresh on election day.

    Maybe. Maybe not.

    One thing he doesn’t seem to consider is that the NRA’s entire schtick is based on the idea that any change in gun safety laws will have an immediate and catastrophic impact on freedoom loving Americans. In a way it is a lot like the doomsaying about equal marriage. “OMG CIVILIZATION WILL CRUMBLE AND WE’LL DIE LIKE RATS.”

    Except, that didn’t happen and it didn’t happen and it still didn’t happen and guess what? No one has died like a rat because more of my friends and neighbors can get hitched.

    So passage of this bill would expose the lie and that would have paved the way for another round of legislation.

    And so that’s what those Democrats were being asked to do, but didn’t.

    • JKTHs says:

      The other thing I don’t get with this line of … reasoning is the the timing (or lack of timing). Red State Dem X votes Yes today. And time passes and time passes and then there’s an election. But Chait posits that the outrage and the political damage will be just as hot and fresh on election day.

      There’s nothing linear about voters’ thinking so even if this vote had happened in October 2014 I don’t think it would have made all that much difference. But this point is even more salient considering that it’s April 2013 and I imagine there will be bigger and more recent issues that will come up during the election cycle.

    • djw says:

      No, it wouldn’t work that way at all, because the bill was completely DOA in the House.

  14. Alex says:

    I’d be angry at the Democrats voting no if they had a chance at overcoming the filibuster. But they didn’t, so I can remain angry at the Republican party.

    Personally, I’m in awe of the number of “We should blame Democrats, Manchin, Toomey, Obama, anyone but the 41 Republicans who voted against this bill” articles. How difficult is it to write an article saying the 41 Republicans who voted against the bill are the primary cause of the filibuster. But nope, it’s just constant Green Lantern theory and willpower and if only it was done the right way. Poor Republicans, they have no agency and can only react.

    But man, when Obama gets his hands on “Up up down down left right left right b a” it’s all going to be over.

  15. Another Anonymous says:

    It’s going to be dicey for the Dems to hang onto the Senate in 2014. Why make it harder for symbolic purposes?

    • Pierre Gervais says:

      Or maybe it’s the other way around? Maybe it’s actually easier to win seats if your party is not perceived as a bunch of yell-bellied opportunistic weasels?
      (sorry for the language. I promise, I am trying to control myself)
      PG

      • Another Anonymous says:

        You are misapprehending how these particular Dem senators are trying to be perceived in their states.

        In the unlikely event that Miss. had a Dem senator, I’d have expected him to vote vs. the bill too, and rightly so. If it had a chance in the House, I’d be more ambivalent.

        • Anonymous says:

          I am not understanding why “these particular Dem senators” trumps “the Democratic Party”. The individual approach to election is what I am not apprehending at all: I think it’s awesomely stupid -so much so, in fact, that it’s stupid even on individual terms. These people effectively claimed that they are “Not-democrats” on a key symbolic issue. The same line of reasoning would led your hypothetical Miss. Senator to back a Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting rights Act, because of the local politics. There is no limit, except the point where voter consider that the “Not-Democratic” becomes more important than the Democratic side of you.

          Which is another way of saying that the Newtown Senate vote, as I like to call it, was symbolically important enough to serve as a check on whether somebody is actually a Democrat. It will take a lot of convincing to meke me think otherwise.

          PG

          • janastas359 says:

            You do understand that politicians are elected on a state by state basis right? And that different states have different populations with different ideas about the government?

            The reason they focus on individual elections is because on election day we don’t all just check a party box and decide the makeup of congress at the national level. I understand being upset here but the idea that a party should run every candidate in every race everywhere on exactly the same platform is idiotic.

            • Pierre Gervais says:

              “Exactly the same platform” would certainly be idiotic, but I don’t recall proposing that. However, “a platform” is actually kinda traditional, while “no platform, but whatever the majority of the people in my district/State happen to believe on any given issue” is a non-starter, ins’t it? The people elected, State by State or otherwise, are “Politicians”, which seems to me the operative term here.

              Speaking of which, strangely enough, even the Senate is not made up of “Independents”, which would be the normal outcome if each Senator was running primarily on the local “ideas about the government” and not on some sort of “party box”.

              And last, I am not sure that the State, or the district, is the correct basic unit for “ideas about governement”. I have noticed striking similarities across States and districts, on whatever platform one cares to talk about. Which is why there are national platforms in the first place, I guess.

              PG

  16. Joe says:

    I’m pissed at the Republicans. If four red state senators have to pick their spots, the same should apply to the other side. That balances things out. I realize that isn’t how it works. Both parties aren’t the same. Still, as others noted, this was a watered down bill led by the senator from West Virginia. You know, sometimes Dems have to have party loyalty. This is one of them.

    If the bill is meaningless, what is the point? The Newtown families don’t seem to think it is “trivial.” It at the very least has a symbolic value, it shows there are SOME limits to the NRA and to make an allusion the “gun power.” That matters. It is not trivial.

  17. Unhinged Liberal says:

    Guns are an explicit individual constitutional right as recently affirmed by the Supreme Court.

    Turn this around and think of this as a vote to limit abortion rights. Still OK with congress placing limitations on this constitutional right?

    A little clarity goes a long way.

    • Joe says:

      Heller specifically noted that there were various kinds of regulations that are allowed. They “explicitly” said this.

      A wrongful limitation of abortion, much less a matter of interstate commerce than guns, would be wrong. The provision in question here was sponsored by people who are strong 2A supporters. Not wrongful. What’s your point again?

  18. Sharon says:

    Days like this. Weeks like this one make me incredibly sad.

    I had a friend who shot because he didn’t give up his cold cut sub and his Funyons fast enough.

    A guy was shot in the head in the alley behind my house because of… some stupid beef.

    I had another friend who was gunned down in front of his house because he had the temerity to do his job as a bouncer.

    We live in a country where our legislators are afraid of casting votes against the insane people who run the NRA.

    An NRA that wants to flood this country with guns because, Freedom.

    Fuck that shit.

    • Lee Hartmann says:

      Exactly. What ever happened to “profiles in courage”? or even doing the right thing. by the way, the Dems lost for decades, as Lyndon Johnson predicted, by being for civil rights. Was that a mistake?

      • djw says:

        The sacrifice, there, came with actual accomplishment.

        • scott says:

          Can’t score goals without shooting, can’t accomplish anything without trying. Rationalizing after the fact why it was all so meaningless anyway and why waste a vote or a seat on it, etc. is what our “leaders” want us to do – accept their failures and demand nothing better. LGM really is quite distinctive in being very protective of those “leaders” while telling the rest of us that we’re fools or assholes to expect anything else. Well, I’d rather be the kind of asshole who gets mad at their failures rather than the kind of asshole who excuses or minimizes them.

          • djw says:

            The bill passing the Senate depended on Republicans. It was pretty obvious they wouldn’t let that happen, but let’s pretend it was possible for a minute. Then what? You think this is going anywhere in the House? “Actual accomplishment” was never on the table here, you have to be completely naive about the modern Republican party to think otherwise.

            • Pierre Gervais says:

              Is there any hope to separate discussion on strategy (long-term, symbols -you know, boring but useful stuff scott is talking about) from discussion on tactics (passing a bill -certainly the ultimate measure of success, but, as it happens, not what scott was discussing)?

              PG

  19. LosGatosCA says:

    This whole dance was for show, but in a good cause, unlike the filibuster reform fiasco.

    Nothing was ever going to pass from day one – this time. I made my wife mad when I said that flat out the first time Obama talked about it.

    However, this is a rare time that Obama has taken up a short term lost cause to ‘lose well’ – that is to position the issue for further progress in the future. With the next Columbine, or Paducah, or Pearl, or Westfield Middle, the ground troops are already organized to take another run at this type of legislation. And they can measure their progress. 56 Senators for cloture is trending well, 52 trending poorly. Get control of the House and get the bill to the floor, it might lose a couple times.

    This is a long run battle. Making LaPierre go full crazy on national TV where even the Faux News folks told him he was nuts is all good. I think the cigarette social stigma strategy combined with a gay marriage type political strategy will get us back to the Brady bill and further in 15-20 years.

    When women put ‘no smokers, no drugs, no gun owners’ in their on line dating profiles you’ll know there’s real progress being made.

    • Ed says:

      I agree this is a long-term cause and no doubt Obama is looking at it that way, but I don’t think he was in this to “lose well” – I’m sure he believed he had a chance of at least getting background checks through. I do like the spunk and anger he showed in his speech, even if it’s unlikely Newtown would have elicited such a strong reaction from him before the November election result was known.

      There’s been progress at the state level and that’s where most of the action is going to be for now. Despite all its public missteps, the NRA played this well and this is a heartening result for them, given their relatively poor showing in the last election cycle.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        There was absolutely no hope of anything ever seeing the light of day in the House, even if there had been a stronger showing in the Senate. Obama may have expected more progress in the Senate this round, but there was zero chance there would ever be a bill on his desk.

        • Ed says:

          Getting something through the Senate would have been a big deal in itself, no matter what happened in the House. No, the man who spoke in the Rose Garden was not expecting to come away with this kind of defeat.

  20. Socraticsilence says:

    Go ahead and try to primary Baucus on Gun Control, it will probably help him by enabling him to spend and raise cash during a primary that wont break 15%, and it will let him triangulate for the general- now in terms of it actually threatening him, that’s laughable. Hell the only candidate who could conceivably beat him is even more pro gun (Schweitzer)– ask the other commenter on here who lives in Big Sky country if you doubt me.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Switch to our mobile site