Doubling Down on Guns

Image: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks next to former Rep. Gabby Giffords on commonsense measures to reduce gun violence, in WashingtonIt’s been a double dose of disaster the last few days, watching events unfold from Boston to Washington. First the horror at the Boston marathon, and then the decision by the highest deliberative body in the land to shuck all reason and abandon responsibility for curbing gun violence while doubling down on our existing gun laws, or lack of them. The first is horribly incomprehensible. Unfortunately, the second is all too comprehensible, given the state of our Congress. Could there be a more dramatic example of the dysfunction at the heart of our national political system? How does what seems like such a reasonable no-brainer not even garner 60 votes. My city is awash in guns (Oakland) only because people can drive up to the Nevada gun show and buy any firearm they want sans background check. How is it that 90% of the public support a critical bill, and not even 55% of the Senate? For those of us who feel that as we should not simply allow our society to be shaped by unmitigated brute forces of nature of culture, but that we must make some effort to shape them toward more productive and positive ends, this was not a good day. For those hoping that amidst the haze of money and power, Congress was still capable of being accountable to something other than the fat contributions and the next election, this was not an encouraging outcome.

The questions come fast and furious. Are politicians running that scared? Does the NRA have that much power? Is the fear of getting “primaried” so intense as to commit what so many have to know is a vote against good conscience, basic safety and decent governance? And honestly, if that is what it requires these days to stay in power, why do they care about keeping their job!? If you have to destroy reason and good conscience to do your job, maybe you shouldn’t have that job. I don’t want to impugn people’s motive too strongly, and I’m sure some voted their conscience, if we can call it that. But if most accounts are to be believed, this was not an issue of deep division. Most supported the bill. This was a straightforward survival vote.  Our elected representatives made a simple bet. “The people will forget. The NRA will not.” I feel insulted, and you may too. But somewhere, our senators are simply surrendering to a painful truth—that on some issues, the voice of money and power speaks a thousand decibels louder than the voice of the quiet multitudes. Where have we gone wrong when the outsized voice of a few hundred thousand matters so much more than the justified outrage of a few hundred million? The tyranny of the majority is one thing, but this is tyranny of a backward minority. This isn’t your democracy, this vote is quietly telling us. Underneath the rhetoric, outrage and justification, we the people are being mocked.

Still, what they don’t realize is that they are making a larger gamble. They are playing with the future of the Republican Party. Yes, while some democrats are to begun violence blamed, this is overwhelmingly a GOP issue. The Republicans are not getting closer to the mainstream, they are not getting closer to responsible governance, they are not getting nearer to making pragmatic steps toward more centrist policies. And with each step they take further down that road, especially at this point, after this last election, the alienation factor only grows that much stronger. And so while they may win individual battles, and retain their individual seats, they are losing the collective war. They are ignoring so much of what America is today, shredding their national contract with so many in this nation, and climbing that much more deeply into the bed with a few. And I sit back and watch this unfold, and I think: Don’t they know this is killing their party? I know I spend more time in progressive circles, and that colors perception, but as Dylan said, you don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing. The social conservative wing of the Republican Party is riding the momentum of past culture war victories but that momentum is fading fast. And however much that may not seem true in the backstreets of Bozeman, or the deserts of Arizona or the Bible Belt sensibilities of my own home state of Oklahoman, it is true. The generations are a’ changin.  The baby boomers are moving on. The country is evolving. These may be real victories for the NRA and real victories for the Senators who will keep their seats, but for the Republican party as a whole this is a pyrrhic victory, and one drenched in the worst kind of compromise, survival for nothing but its own sake. We need a healthy Republican party, one that champions meritocracy and individual achievement, our religious heritage and civic duty, genuinely free markets and open societies, freedom and restrained, accountable government. But that seems more of a fantasy than ever. The people who voted against what seemed to be such a reasonable, sensible bill are doubling down on the past. And doubling down on death.