This has not been a good week for President Obama. I think it will not be the worst week of this year or this term, which I predict will get worse as his own personality flaws and patently partisan strategies make his lame-duck term even more impotent than is usually the case.
To begin with, he bet the farm on the passage of new gun-control legislation. Albeit the vote this week in the Senate was only on amendments to the main bill -- something his Majority Leader Reid (who won his last race as the NRA choice) insisted on, though it made passage more difficult, requiring 60, not 51 votes -- all the amendments went down in flames with numbers of his own party members abandoning him. By week's end Reid had withdrawn the main bill without even bringing it to a vote.
In defiance of reality, Obama held a petulant, unpresidential press conference, ending the effort as he began it with demagogic, partisan rhetoric. ...and a threat to accomplish by executive orders what he cannot achieve by legislation
The Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley captured my thoughts on the defeat of these proposed bills:
Barack Obama is a lame duck president. Nobody listens to what he says anymore, nobody is interested in winning his approval and nobody much cares if he thinks they have "let the country down". This is typical for a second-term president who has lost all their leverage because they're no longer running for office and everybody is patiently waiting for the day when he quits the White House. But Obama's difficult personality has doubled the size of the challenge. Gloating in victory, adolescent in defeat -- the Prez doesn't make it easy to work with him. Why should conservative senators give him a legislative victory after he has spent four years painting them as knuckle-dragging rednecks who hate women and the poor?
Whatever your position on gun control, yesterday's events are a damning indictment of Obama's presidency -- a flash of style, lots of soaring rhetoric and, when the votes are actually counted, little [to] show for any of it. America has four more years of this lame-duck president telling them that it has let him down. If only he could tear up the Constitution and rule by diktat he might save himself a little disappointment. Alas, American democracy is a stickler for rules.
Aside from the loss of face, it's clear that much more than gun control was behind his strategic miscalculation. I believe it was directed at retaking the House so that he could once again control the levers of government which had earlier permitted the ramming through of Obamacare, a piece of legislation so outrageously unworkable that recently, Senators Baucus and Rockefeller, whose efforts made it possible, are now warning its implementation will be a disaster.
Powerline's John Hinderaker touched on the reason for the president's rage:
But why was Obama so angry? I wrote here that it was odd for Obama to make gun control the signature issue of his second term, since there has never been any chance of significant gun control legislation being enacted. It couldn't possibly get through the House. So why, today, was he so irate about its failure in the Senate?
As we have noted more than once, pretty much everything Obama does is intended to stir up the Democratic Party's base to drive turnout in 2014. Obama knows he can't do much of anything as long as the GOP holds the House, so his primary goal is to stoke outrage on the left, in hopes that 2014 will look like 2008 and 2012, and not like 2010. So no doubt he hoped that some gun control measure -- any gun control measure! -- could get through the Senate, so that pressure, probably irresistible, could be brought to force a vote on the same proposal in the House. Not so that it might pass, but so that House Republicans would be on record voting against gun control. Obama could have raised countless millions from his fervently anti-gun base to go after the more vulnerable such Republicans. Now, the issue won't even come up in the House, and Obama and the Democrats will have to find something else.
But I think it was more than stirring the base. The Daily Caller pegged it -- the president hoped that this wedge issue would deliver a Democratic House next year:
The Senate's effective rejection of President Barack Obama's post-Newtown gun control bill robs the Democratic Party of an important tool for trying to regain a majority in the House in November 2014.
"Are they serious?" a visibly angry Obama demanded of opponents of the Toomey/Manchin Senate bill. In a late-afternoon announcement outside the White House, the president added that if Congress continues not to pass a gun control bill, "the answer will have to come from the voters."
But without a Senate bill, there's little chance that vulnerable GOP House members in suburban swing-districts will face the unpleasant choice of either recording a public vote against what Obama repeatedly describes as "common-sense measures to reduce gun violence and save lives" or voting against gun rights supported by the National Rifle Association and many Americans.
The wedge issue was highlighted this morning by Obama's 2012 strategic advisor, David Axelrod.
"A bunch of suburban, swing district Republicans in House are probably deeply relieved that Senate appears poised to kill background checks," Axelrod said in a morning tweet.
"Interested to see if [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg and others who've worked hard on this issue remain active in 2014 elections, holding no votes accountable," Axelrod added at 9.43 a.m. EST.
To this end, the Administration had pulled out all the stops, schlepping around the badly wounded Gabby Giffords and some of the Sandy Hook grieving parents.
James Taranto dissected the incivility and unreason of the appeal written in her name for the New York Times -- the same could be said of the entire White House strategy respecting this legislation:
Giffords's 900-word jeremiad should be included in every textbook of logic and political rhetoric, so rife is it with examples of fallacious reasoning and demagogic appeals. Let's go through them:
• The argumentum ad passiones, or appeal to emotion.
• The appeal to motives. Giffords claims that the senators who voted against the measures "looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby" and "made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association." She also asserts that "their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest" and on "cowardice." These characterizations are mutually inconsistent -- can a senator's decision have been based on both unreasoning fear and a cold (but erroneous!) calculation of self-interest?--and they are also entirely unsubstantiated. So is her assertion that "the status quo" is "desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation."
• Guilt by association.
• Poisoning the well. In reality, the [Senators who voted against the legislation] didn't "do nothing"; they rejected particular legislative proposals. It does not follow, and indeed it seems unlikely and is boorish to assert, that their expressions of sympathy were not heartfelt.
• Begging the question. Giffords characterizes the proposed amendments as "common-sense legislation" that "could prevent future tragedies." She also describes them as "these most benign and practical of solutions." She pretends that the central matter in dispute -- whether the benefits would outweigh the costs or indeed whether the proposals would have yielded the benefits their advocates promised at all -- has already been settled in her side's favor.
• The no-true-Scotsman move. "[snip] She ignores the possibility that those polls are flawed and that the senators are hearing a different message from their constituents. Then she qualifies her claim of public unanimity: "I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth . . ." See what she did there? (The switcheroo to every reasonable American reminds us of a probably apocryphal tale about Adlai Stevenson. A woman is supposed to have said to him, "Governor, you have the support of every thinking American," to which he replied: "But madam, I need a majority.")
• The argumentum ad baculam, or argument from the club. [snip] This consists in attempting to persuade by making threats.
• The argumentum ad miserecordiam, or appeal to pity. "[snip] It should be obvious that this in no way speaks to the merits of the legislation or even the character of its supporters and opponents.
• The false dilemma. This is Giffords's closing gambit: "To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way."
• The appeal to authority. That would be Giffords's own authority as a former lawmaker. [snip] Perhaps her legislative experience gives her some insight into the senators' state of mind, but if so, she does not share it with readers, whom she expects to accept her conclusion unquestioningly.
She makes one other appeal to authority, writing of the senators who voted "no" that "they will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done -- trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you."
But the appeal to authority isn't always fallacious. In this case, Giffords has earned her readers' trust. The op-ed itself demonstrates her total command of how politicians talk when they want to distract
Kevin D. Williamson at NRO dismissed her appeal more tersely:
While Ms. Giffords certainly has my sympathy for the violence she suffered, it should be noted that being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions, nor does it give one moral license to call people "cowards" for holding public-policy views at variance with one's own. Her childish display in the New York Times is an embarrassment.
As to the repeated claim that 90% of Americans wanted this legislation and the wicked NRA was strong enough to block it, and did so by lies, the first answer is to admire the strength of the president's opponents and marvel at his own incredible impotence. On the other hand, it's more likely that claim is bunk. Charlie Martin and Tom Maguire dismantle that nonsensical excuse:
Charlie on Facebook:
Odd how something is bipartisan if 59 Democrats and 1 Republican votes for it in the face of mass public opposition in many polls (*cough* health care *cough*), but it's Republican when 5 Democrats vote against it. It's also funny how a slightly different question ("change gun control laws"/"leave them as they are") gets a substantial majority in favor of keeping them as they are: http://www.pollingreport.com/guns.htm
Tom Maguire also probed the 90% claim and found it without substance:
So when our peerless leader says that "90 percent of the American people support universal background checks" he really means that roughly 90% support the current law and a bare majority favor extending that law to family transfers. I wonder if he knows he is wrong about this?
Well. If I were giving Obama advice I would say that in the same way that the best can be the enemy of the good, the stupidest can be the enemy of the marginally plausible. The assault weapons ban was a political non-starter that labelled its supporters (including Obama) as laughably ignorant on basic gun design and basic Constitutional issues. That inclusion tends to poison the subsequent conversation.
But don't take my word for it! Here is the NY Times describing Sen. Feinstein's debacle:
Almost immediately after the murders in Newtown, gun control advocates and the Democratic leadership in the Senate decided that legislation strengthening background checks for gun purchases was their best avenue for success. (Though in a sign of how they miscalculated over all, that measure was also defeated on Wednesday, falling five votes short.)
An assault weapons ban was never going to attract senators like Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, with A ratings from the National Rifle Association, whose support would be needed for a compromise. And Democrats now privately complain that Ms. Feinstein's bill seemed to rally gun control opponents, who could point to it as Exhibit A in what they perceived as a federal conspiracy to take guns away from law-abiding citizens.
Yes it did, and broadly worded polls showed fading public support for the control effort:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bipartisan effort to expand background checks is in deep trouble as the Senate approaches a long-awaited vote on the linchpin of the drive to curb gun violence. As the showdown draws near, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows ebbing public support for tightening gun control laws.
Perhaps helping explain Democrats' problems, an AP-GfK poll this month showed that 49 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws. That was down from 58 percent who said so in January -- a month after the December killings of 20 children and six aides at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school propelled gun violence into a national issue.
When "stricter laws" includes fantasy and nonsense the public may lose a bit of the nuance. Add to that Obama's ongoing inability to move the needle and here we are. On to immigration reform!
CANDOR: Here is Obama using the same stale stats to make the case for expanded background checks:
All it did was extend the same background check rules that already apply to guns purchased from a dealer to guns purchased at gun shows or over the Internet. So 60 percent of guns are already purchased through a background check system.
This would have covered a lot of the guns that are currently outside that system.
I think he is impenetrable on this one, but it certainly adds irony to this:
But instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.
Peter Wehner neatly wrapped up the administration's shameful efforts:
The families of the Newtown massacre are being used by the president in an effort to frame the issue this way: If you're with Obama, you're on the side of saving innocent children from mass killings -- and if you're against Obama, you have the blood of the children of Newtown on your hands. But it actually does matter if what Obama is proposing would have made any difference when it came to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And the fact that it would not have is what makes Obama's gambit so shameful and disturbing. (I say that as someone who is somewhat sympathetic to the expanded background checks.)
Mr. Obama's effort at emotional blackmail has failed, and in bitterly lashing out at those who called him out on his demagoguery, he went some distance toward confirming that he is, in fact, a demagogue.
Three months into his second term, Mr. Obama is becoming an increasingly bitter and powerless figure. When a man who views himself as a world-historic figure and our Moral Superior commands things to happen and they don't, it isn't a pretty sight. See yesterday's Rose Garden statement for more.
Now, on to the next wedge issue the Administration hoped to exploit -- immigration. This is another major issue, where a very lengthy bill has been drafted so far without hearings or debate, on an important hot-button issue.
Fate doesn't seem to be with him. The perpetrators of the Boston terror campaign seem to be recent Islamic immigrants and the citizens of Massachusetts, which has very strict gun control laws, were forced to cower inside their defenseless homes in fear.