April 17, 2013
Of course they have a right to speak their minds. But no, their emotions are not relevant when it comes to empirical questions such as the impact of background checks, “assault weapon” bans, and limits on magazines. Their pain tells us nothing about the effectiveness or constitutionality of such measures. To the contrary, it obscures those issues with an impenetrable emotional fog.
Obama does a fine job of empathizing with the parents of Adam Lanza’s victims. But that is something any decent human being should be able to manage. Where he has trouble, despite his lip service to the idea of putting himself in the other guy’s shoes, is in empathizing with his opponents. He not only says they are wrong, which is to be expected. He refuses to concede that people who disagree with him about gun control are acting in good faith, based on what they believe to be sound reasons—that they, like him, are doing what they think is right. His self-righteous solipsism is striking even for a politician.
Most politicians, even if they feel that way, are better at hiding it, because they realize that it’s generally bad politics.
Related: “Let’s put it this way: Passion may have a place, but it is not a substitute for rational argument.” Well, it was used as a substitute here, and as a way of saying if you disagree with me it’s because you don’t care about dead kids, but it didn’t work. Maybe it would have, if life were a Very Special Episode of The West Wing.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), co-sponsor of the background-check amendment, disagrees. Here is how he solicited support for that measure: “If you want to remember those 20 babies—beautiful children—and the six brave teachers…and you want to honor the most courageous family members I have ever met, please vote for this bill.” By extension, if you dare to point out that background checks have absolutely nothing to do with the Sandy Hook massacre, you are dishonoring the memories of those innocent victims. Anyone “with a good conscience,” Manchin claimed, could not possibly question whether a bill supposedly aimed at preventing mass shootings would actually do that. Could it be that Manchin’s intimidation tactics not only failed but backfired?
“This was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” President Obama declared after today’s votes, saying senators who voted against the amendments he supported “caved to pressure.” That seems a more apt description for legislators like Reid and Manchin, who for years opposed gun control measures based on what they claimed were principled grounds, only to abandon those principles because they were afraid of seeming insensitive in the face of raw emotional appeals. But as I’ve said before, Obama seems incapable of imagining that his opponents have any principles at all.
UPDATE: Reader Matt Kreutzmann writes:
With the defeat today of even a modest gun control measure, I’m starting to think of Obama’s 2nd term and the election differently…
Winning by getting out low-information voters that wouldn’t otherwise vote is kind of like all the various SEO practices designed to game the Google algorithm and get a site on page one of the results – it might work, but it doesn’t make you relevant. Relevance takes hard work and authenticity, neither of which comes readily to this President.