I thought Obama's remarks in the Rose Garden yesterday, slamming the NRA ("the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied") and everyone who voted against legislation expanding background checks that was backed by 90% public support, represented one of the best moments of his presidency. It's extremely rare to hear a politician to speak about anything with genuine anger, frustration, and honesty. It's true that the politics and the policy aligned nicely for Obama here, but it was still amazingly refreshing to hear him talk like that (one wishes he had taken a similar approach with Wall Street). To call out an enormously powerful lobby for "willfully lying" is just not something an American president does very often. So, good for him.
I don't have much to add to what Obama said. But it's important for even cynics to understand the significance of what happened in the Senate yesterday. This was a watershed moment in American politics and governance (even though the legislation in question was terribly inadequate, given the scale of the problem). Gun violence is a catastrophic social plague in our society and it should be the top priority for public policy to address. Tens of thousands of our fellow citizens are dying, pointlessly, every year. After years of Republican lunatics and Democratic cowards colluding to just ignore the problem altogether, the massacre in Newtown provided a unique opportunity to force legislators to choose between the murderous NRA or their actual constituents. Polling showed overwhelming public support for expanding background checks, banning assault weapons, banning high-capacity magazines, and other regulations. The NRA became a cartoonish villain and served as a sickening contrast to the humanity and optimism of the victims' families. The stars were aligned, it seemed.
There was one problem, though: the existence of the Republican party. It is a testament to the life-or-death nature of this issue that so many people actually convinced themselves that the Republican party couldn't possibly - couldn't possibly - stand with the ghoulish NRA against nearly the entire American public. Surely, even modern Republicans would not have the gall to do this. Right?
Well, yesterday, the Republicans didn't just prove that all that optimism was radically misguided. They didn't just actively take a stand in defense of violence and murder and against democracy and humanity. They actually laughed about it and mocked victims of the gun violence they so enthusiastically support. Mitch McConnell, half-man, half-turtle, and the one who openly declared back in early 2009 that his central aim as minority leader of the world's highest deliberative body was simply to destroy Barack Obama, posted this on his Facebook page yesterday (or one of his aides did, doubtless with his permission):
What can you even say about this other than to just wonder how these people sleep at night?
I see some of the commentary regarding the legislative failure is focusing on "the Senate" in general terms and even blaming the conservative Democrats who voted against the bill. A New York Times report on the story told us that "just enough Democrats broke with their party to make a difference." This is factually inaccurate. The roll call was 54 in favor and 46 against. Five Democrats voted against the bill, which means that even if every Senate Democrat had voted in favor, the vote still would have fallen one short of the 60 needed to break the Republican filibuster. Yes, the 5 Democrats who voted against this are shameless servants of the gun lobby and should be vilified to no end. Yes, the Senate is a grotesquely undemocratic institution where legislation with majority support regularly dies. But this legislation failed because of the Republican party, and to suggest otherwise is to implicitly defend that party's contemptuous intransigence and refusal to do anything to address the epidemic of gun violence (or even acknowledge its existence). Democratic senators voted 51-5 in favor. Republican senators voted 41-3 against. This is the only story.
The Republicans punched the entire American public in the gut yesterday (read Gabby Giffords' excellent New York Times op-ed about just how shameful it was). They mercilessly destroyed, with extreme pleasure, the hope and idealism of everyone who wanted to believe that, after Newtown, something had changed in the political zeitgeist. It is a new low for this gruesome collection of wretched thugs and extremists who now control the party of Lincoln. Every story or opinion piece about yesterday's vote should be about the utter moral bankruptcy of this party.