Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's Not Guns

Joan Walsh, taking heart from a changed political climate which brought Democrats close to almost securing a mild gun safety law, notes

And it’s become a law of nature: When Democrats run away from their legacy – whether on civil rights, anti-poverty programs, climate change or gun control – Republicans don’t recognize their conciliation and meet them in the middle: they run far to the right. They reject former Republican ideas – cap and trade, the individual mandate for health insurance, and even background check legislation, which was once the “reasonable” alternative to more stringent gun control, supported by not only Republicans but the NRA.

Wayne LaPierre learned that lesson well. Even after Newtown, he moved the debate to the right, rather than compromising.

She also may be realistic in her hope that "this defeat is just the beginning, not the end, of a serious gun-control movement in this country." Certainly, as she maintains, "Democrats and a handful of Republicans of conscience just have to get used to fighting hard on this issue."  Then she concludes by approvingly quoting former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who wrote Wednesday in a New York Times op-ed

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

Strong, and important, words from a victim of the massacre in front of the Safeway supermarket two+ years ago in Tucson:  if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities' interests ahead of the gun lobby's.  That is a call to a litmus test, arguing that a different Congress must be one that will push the interest of gun safety to the forefront of its agenda.

Which party is it which will dedicate itself to sensible, even moderate firearms legislation? Four of 46 Republican Senators voted to proceed with debating a bill co-sponsored by two conservative Senators- one risking his career in gun-friendly West Virginia and the other a walking, talking sponsor of corporate America.  Rejecting cloture, forty-two Republican Senators decided they didn't even want to talk about it.

And what about the Democratic Party, a vast majority of whose Senators voted in favor of the compromise- will it commit itself, beyond a possible convention plank, to some sort of gun control legislation?   Last month, the National Journal reported

 “This is becoming an early litmus test for potential 2016 candidates,” said Democrat strategist and 2008 Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee. “You don’t have to be 100 percent for gay marriage but you have to at least be in favor of relationship equality.”

Public opinions on gay marriage have shifted dramatically over the past decade. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday shows that 58 percent of Americans support gay marriage, while only 36 percent say it should be illegal. That’s a complete reversal of public opinion from where it stood in 2003.

To win a Democratic primary, supporting gay marriage is shaping up to be a requirement: The poll found 72 percent of Democrats support same-sex marriage, up from 43 percent in 2004.

Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign’s 2012 spokesman, said on MSNBC shortly after Clinton’s announcement that “you can't be a Democratic candidate in 2016 and oppose same-sex marriage.”

No one expects a Democratic strategist to declare "you can't be a Democratic candidate in 2016 and oppose gun-safety legislation, " even expanded background checks, whose support among the public eclipses that for same-sex marriage.   The statement would not apply in a national campaign, let alone in Montana, Alaska, North Dakota, and Arkansas (in which a Democratic Senator voted with the winning side) and other states in which a Democratic candidate will soft-pedal his/her support.

A litmus test is "a crucial test using a single issue or factor as the basis for judgment."  If there is more than one test, neither is crucial- nor, obviously, is it a single factor.  The Democratic Party is staking its claim on one issue, and it's not gun safety.

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