Signs of a Future
This has been a fairly complex week in the world of national politics. Despite the concentration of attention on refashioning gun legislation, a couple of other signs of an upheaval to come in Congress made themselves known, and we think happily.
The most entertaining story of the week, and the one perhaps with the longest lasting effect on the face of our national government, came when a flock of Republicans threatened to filibuster the Manshen/Toomey bill that was reached after much hard work and compromise, making certain that new gun legislation did not in any way threaten citizens’ 2nd amendment rights, whatever they are.
From out of the anti-deluvian fog of years past crept Senator Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the Senate, who proudly announced that he too would join the filibuster.
Whereupon thirteen of the sixteen filibusterers declared they were no longer going to be filibusterers.
Why would this happen? The bloc of Senators who wanted to slow down, if not completely destroy any hope for progress on the gun legislation front, were, by and large, young and also older tyros, some in their first terms, some allied with the Tea Party and its youthful devil-take-the-hindmost approach to politics generally.
They didn’t want to be identified by or with an old foggy whose public relations campaigns of yore had gone so badly. Not to mention, the most recent one wherein he was caught planning dirty tricks against a woman who might once have been his opponent when he runs for re-election to the Senate in 2014.
After running the Kentucky delegation to Congress for thirty years, it appears Senator McConnell’s time is nearing an end. Never overly popular, never “one of the boys,” the oleaginous politician may have come to the end of his career, hastened by his complete refusal to compromise and consider anything coming from the current White House. It was McConnell, after all, who on inauguration day in 2009, declared that his first priority was making certain Barack Obama would be a one term president. Well, that didn’t work.
Coupled with a loss nationally in the 2012 election, and the implicit message that America did not want any more obstructionism, from either side, McConnell tried to stick to his plan. Too late. The American voter outflanked him, and members of his own party began to see him as a dinosaur who could neither lead nor get out of the way.
This week his own colleagues pushed him out of the way. Not a popular leader, McConnell may be unable to muster the mustard to win again in Kentucky. Freedom means a freedom to dream, and people are beginning to do that exact thing.
Secondly this week we were introduced to an independent Senator, one who ran independent of party identification, and who has broad government experience in his home state of Maine. Angus King, former governor up north, brought to the debate over gun control a sensible, common sense approach to its results. As many commentators went ballistic over the number of Republican Senators (along with two Democratic Senators, let’s be fair), who tried to vote down even an appearance on the Senate floor of any legislation having to do with gun control, King stood in front of television cameras and opted to concentrate on that glass being more than half full. He was optimistic about the coming strings of gun bills, admitting easily that while some may not pass, some might. He was resolute, thoughtful, attractive, sensible. This could be a man of real power in the Senate as time passes, and we welcome him in the large public arena.
Compared to Mitch McConnell, King may turn out to be an actual monarch of all he surveys.
It is important to remember that this week’s action on the Senate floor only allowed the Senate to debate gun legislation, not yet to pass any. The question called was should there be an up or down vote on getting legislation to the floor to be debated. 68 Republicans and Democrats voted in the affirmative.
Not only was this good news for all the families of the Newtown victims, it was also bad news for the National Rifle Association. The NRA is fighting on two fronts: the broad front of public relations, spiced daily by bulletins that purported to try to solve some of the intractable problems of gun ownership but that actually proceeded to try to frighten their cohorts into believing a national registry of guns and their owners was only one step away from complete confiscation.
This insofar as the Manshen/Toomey compromise nowhere mentions a “registry” at all. The registry is a complete red herring, meant only to stir the pot towards more confusion and anger.
The second front the NRA finds itself fighting on is with the Gun Owners of America Association, led by an even more doctrinaire man called Larry Pratt, who puts Wayne La Pierre to shame in his vitriolic and flatly dishonest readings of the public’s mood.
Confronted with national polling results that speak of nearly 90 per cent approval for increased background checks, Pratt straight-facedly replied that his own group’s polling showed only four per cent approval. Furthermore, he chooses not to believe in any polls at all. Much like not believing in climate change.
This challenge to Wayne La Pierre is driving the latter berserk. And also, we hope, fracturing his relentless and ill-conceived solution to the problem of school safety in the first place: arming teachers in their classrooms.
The NRA has a lot of skin, and money, in this game. And for the first time in decades faces the possibility that its supposed power to make or break a politician may be flatly bogus.
But the real victory for all of us came in watching and reading about men and women who seemed no longer quite so afraid of the NRA. Adopting an attitude we embraced earlier, that two-thirds of the Senate had nothing to fear from the NRA because these Senators were not up for re-election in the immediate future AND that each of them had four years’ time to arm against any threat the NRA might make or any challenge from their right the NRA might stand behind, these men and women actually took their responsibilities seriously, listened to their constituents, and voted as agents of the people who sent them to Washington in the first place. (See “A Simple Plan II” in “Newspaper Columns.”)
That, folks, is called “democracy,” and it’s been too long since we saw any traces of serious intent to perform as the Constitution directs.
And if, in its demented fashion, the NRA threatens to cut off these legislators from funding during an election cycle, these Senators have plenty of time to find other forms of support that might go a long way to combating the now nationally understood idea that our legislatures are being bought and brought everyday in every way to do things that are not in the public good, but only in the private.
It’s too early to start feeling too good. But it’s not too early to begin to hope that the US ship of state can be steered in more than one direction.