Saturday, May 28, 2022

A Strategy Without Guns

There are dirty little secrets and dirty big secrets, and this is in the latter category.

Igor Volsky, Executive Director of Guns Down America, has been justifiably angry at the passive response of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Joe Biden to the massacre in Uvalde. He told (beginning at 2:32 of the video below) Zerlina Maxwell of MSNBC

Don't let him tell you the choice is either to have those negotiations or to have a quick vote that will fail. No, what the President can do is bring Senators, key stakeholders, survivors to the White House and begin the process while they're all in D.C. now while this tragedy is fresh in everybody's mind of having negotiations to get us to some kind of solution.

The fact that they are unwilling to do so and are talking- listen to the way they tweet about this issue. "We should do something. Congress should take action." You are the President of the United States of America. You are elected because you promised us that your thirty years of Senate experience, of bringing lawmakers together to get tough things done. Where is that experience now? Put it to the test, Mr. President.

In contrast to Volsky, I believe that having a quick vote that will fail would have the salutary effect of putting Democratic senators and Republican senators on record at a time of maximum impact of the massacre upon public opinion.

Democrats like to like their Democratic president and, notwithstanding the state of the world, generally like this one. Volsky's strategy is a sound one, and calling the President out is both necessary and courageous.

However, Joe Biden's strategy does not require him to bring together these varied stakeholders, nor to take action directly on gun safety. As Maxwell noted, Volsky has said that the President must "get caught trying to do something"- and that's exactly what he has done.  The Guardian reported

Joe Biden signed an executive order he promised would usher in the “most significant police reform in decades” on Wednesday, the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.

With Congress deadlocked, Biden said he was using the powers of the presidency to advance his campaign promises and deliver police accountability and reform “that is real and lasting”.

As to whether the President was caught trying to do something

Biden was joined at the White House for a signing ceremony by Floyd’s family as well as relatives of Breonna Taylor, who was killed when police executed a no-knock warrant at her apartment in 2020. In remarks preceding the signing, Biden praised them for their efforts to push for change even as they grieve.

“It’s not about their death but what we do in their memory that matters,” he said.

The measure, signed in response to congressional (read: Republican) inaction in responding to blacks being killed by police officers, is the racial justice analogue to the "sensible" gun safety legislation urged by liberals and progressives, who recognize more meaningful legislation is unrealizable. Biden's

executive order signed on Wednesday directs federal agencies to revise use-of-force policies, banning tactics such as chokeholds, restricting practices like no-knock warrants and promoting de-escalation techniques.

It also calls for the creation of a new national standard for accrediting police departments; establishes a national database to track police misconduct; further restricts the transfer of military equipment to police departments; and requires agencies to implement new tools to screen for inherent bias among officers as well as recruits, including those who promote unlawful violence or harbor white supremacist views.

It is not law but merely an executive order, and thus likely to be rescinded if a GOP president is elected in 2024. Moreover, it applies only to federal law enforcement officers, who rarely are the individuals most likely (justifiably, sometimes unjustifiably) to shoot black, brown, and white citizens.  Nonetheless, Biden's was "caught trying to do something" because his intent, though with limited consequences, is clear and proper. 

And if it is still not clear that the President's intent was to appear to be "trying to do something," he said the order

was “a measure of what we can do together to heal the very soul of this nation, to address profound fear and trauma, exhaustion that particularly Black Americans have experienced for generations”.

Order signed; country healed; paradise looms. In light of the history which racial justice advocates are determined Americans learn, it is unclear- if not concerning- what the "very soul" of this nation is. Nonetheless

When the ceremony concluded, Biden invited Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, to sit in his chair and handed her the pen he had used to sign the order. Remarking how tall she’d grown since the last time he saw her, Biden turned to the audience and recalled that Gianna told him the first time they met: “My daddy is gonna change the world.”

It doesn't appear to have happened. But not to worry. Biden signed an order, with family of George Floyd and of Breonna Taylor, to enhance accountability of law enforcement in light of its racial bias. Biden strained to link it to the massacre of the previous day.  The Guardian noted

Biden began his remarks by addressing the massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. “We’re here today for the same purpose – to come together and say, ‘Enough,’ ” he said.

As everyone understood, that was not the purpose of the Executive Order. 

Joe Biden very likely wants to be re-elected, and to do that he must be re-nominated which, if things don't turn around in the next 18 months, will not be a slam dunk. He is a Democratic President. It is helpful to be is caught responding in some way or another to the events in Texas.

But it is necessary to be caught doing something, anything, to respond to racially disparate treatment. He gets extra credit for doing so in the presence of family and/or relatives of victims of that injustice.

Whatever Biden's long-ago record of promoting gun safety legislation, it is not the reason he was endorsed for his party's nomination by Jim Clyburn, given a standing ovation by the largely African-American primary electorate in South Carolina, and driven to victory in the campaign. Sad, but true: he need not do anything about gun safety to be the party's standard-bearer in 2024.

President Biden was caught trying to do something. If interest in gun safety fizzles after a while, his disinterest now will hurt him little while seeking re-nomination. If instead the March for Our Lives demonstrations nationwide on June 11 reinvigorates the movement, there will be plenty of time for him to be caught again trying to do something.

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