Forget that in a poll only two months ago, 74% of Americans supported a ban on assault weapons.
That’s just not enough support for Democrats in Congress. If the NRA and their vassals, the Republican party (and conservative Dems), say you won’t pass any gun control even over the dead bodies of twenty school kids, then who are we, 74% of the country, to disagree with them.
Democrats in the Senate today killed the assault weapons ban that had passed earlier in the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to the Washington Post, it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who killed the ban, likely because he feared the overall legislation wouldn’t pass with the ban in there, but then again, Reid is pro-gun, and just until his last election, a close friend of the NRA. So it’s entirely possible that the Democratic leader had multiple motives for pulling the plug on the popular provision.
(And don’t believe anyone’s assurances that the assault weapons ban will be permitted to come up as an amendment. That’s how they kill things they don’t like in the Senate – like helping gay couples in immigration reform. They strip you from the bill, then tell you that you’re free to offer an amendment later, knowing that it’s 100 times harder to get a provision into the bill than to strip it out.)
Zack Beauchamp at ThinkProgress did a list of the top 8 NRA-backed Democrats in the Senate who were blocking gun control efforts, particularly the President’s post- Sandy Hook initiative, and Reid was in that small list.
Other NRA-enablers include Max Baucus (D-MT, a usual sell-out on anything that involves big-monied lobbyists knocking at his door (see health care reform)), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND, new to the Senate, but quickly learning the game of selling out to the highest bidder, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mark Begich of Alaska, Joe Manchin of West Virginia (what hasn’t Manchin sold out on?), and Jon Tester of Montana.
As always with Democrats, the lack of nerve is often mixed with a lack of support for the underlying proposal. Democrats like Baucus weren’t just bad on health care reform, they didn’t want it in the first place. So it’s really a two-fold problem we tend to face with Democrats; a lack of guts; and a distaste for progressive proposals, regardless of how popular they are.
That last point, about Dems just not being that into us ideologically, reminds me of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal debate. For the longest time, Democrats claimed they were on our side, but it sure felt like they were afraid to even try to do the right thing. Our then- deputy on the blog, Joe Sudbay, coined the term “political homophobia” to describe this apparently fear of Democrats to follow through on pro-gay promises that were getting 70% support in the polls.
But the Democratic fear of doing the right, and popular, thing isn’t just limited to gay rights. Clearly it permeates the gun debate, in addition to climate change, immigration reform (until the Republicans blinked, at least in the Senate, out of fear for their future electoral prospects in a country increasingly-Latino), abortion, Wall Street Reform, and really pretty much every progressive issue.
Remember when George Bush and the Republicans kept accusing Democrats of embracing far-left positions, like withdrawal from Iraq, when the majority of the public agreed with us? Or that “crazy socialist” notion of passing a public option in health care reform, that was “only” supported by 70% of the American public?
In contrast to Republicans, who really are being sunk by their own bad ideas (you really can’t hate women, blacks, gays, and latinos and expect to win a lot of elections), in the case of Democrats, its their spine and their marketing, which is affected by their lack of spine. Democrats really are the kings of not trying to effectively sell a position, then claiming that the position’s low support in the polls means it’s a bad idea. Maybe. Or maybe it would be a good idea if you just did a better job explaining it to people?
Health Care Reform is probably the best recent example of this conundrum. I think my favorite poll of late was from Newsweek showing that the public hated “health care reform,” but loved what was in the legislation. In other words, Republican messaging won the day – “health care reform” was a “bad” idea – but when you asked people about the details of the legislation, and didn’t tell them that the proposal was actually in the health care reform bill, they loved it!
When asked about Obama’s plan (without being given any details about what the legislation includes), 49 percent opposed it and 40 percent were in favor. But after hearing key features of the legislation described, 48 percent supported the plan and 43 percent remained opposed.
The NEWSWEEK Poll asked respondents about eight health-care-reform provisions that Obama and many Democrats in Congress have generally supported. It found that the majority of Americans supported five of those provisions, three by particularly large margins. Eighty-one percent agreed with the creation of a new insurance marketplace, the exchange, for individual subscribers to compare plans and buy insurance at a competitive rate. Seventy-six percent thought health insurers should be required to cover anyone who applies, including those with preexisting conditions; and 75 percent agreed with requiring most businesses to offer health insurance to their employees, with incentives for small-business owners to do so.
Of course, Democrats see that the public opposes health care reform, deem it a “loser” issue (like the stimulus), run from it, and the polling gets even worse, causing more Democrats to run from it. The “badness” of health care reform becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, when in fact, the proposal wasn’t bad, the selling it of was.
The pro- gun control side of the argument has been gravely wounded over the past decade and a half. Democrats clearly consider it a loser issue, while Republicans, along with conservative Dems and their buddies in the NRA, seem to have no shame in loosening gun laws even further, to hell with this country’s near-fetish with violence as compared to the rest of the developed world.
It’s time for gun control advocates to lose their shame, and start demanding the legislation they want, and that America needs, regardless of how much it ticks off their supposed friends in the Democratic party. It’s often the only way to win.