On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted 54-46 to defeat an amendment that would have required broader background checks on gun purchases. The amendment, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin and pushed by the White House and its supporters, was the last hope for any kind of gun control bill in this Congress, and probably for President Obama’s presidency.
In the lead up to the vote, the president enlisted all kinds of help for his gun control efforts: Vice President Biden, recent opinion polls on the subject, and even, most gallingly, the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, who were shuttled to Washington, D.C. on Air Force One and enlisted as lobbyists.
Yet the cumulative effect of these efforts was nil. Why? A few explanations.
First, this effort gives lie to the Rahm Emanuel theory of never letting a tragedy go to waste. President Obama, who took no action on gun control after the Fort Hood shooting or the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, believed this was the moment for passing sweeping gun control measures. Surely Americans would follow his lead after the murder of so many innocent children.
Yet from the outset, the president and his allies were playing from behind. There are political and procedural reasons for this, but a more basic reason could be this: Americans, unlike our hyper political president, do not see tragedy as an obvious springboard for partisan political ploys.
Most Americans express sorrow, sympathy and compassion after tragedies, as in the outpouring of prayer and support following the Boston Marathon bombings. Those sentiments may give way to some form of action, but few Americans react the way true Leftists such as our president do: as seeing tragedy as an opportunity to accomplish political bucket list priorities.
Second, the failure of gun control legislation teaches this lesson: do not outsource legislative efforts to task forces or commissions. After Sandy Hook, the president fell prey to the oldest (and least productive) inclination in Washington: to set up a commission to study the issue and make recommendations. Worse yet, the president put “shoot ‘em with a shotgun” Joe Biden in charge.
Commission-based legislating is a tried and true method for accomplishing nothing. Other examples include the Simpson-Bowles commission, President Bush’s commission on Social Security reform, and the proposed commission to study border security lodged within the recent immigration reform proposal. Commissions are proper vehicles for after-action analysis, e.g., the 9/11 Commission, not legislative accomplishment.