Leland Yee, a Democratic state senator and candidate for secretary of state in California, has been a longtime champion of gun control. This week he was arrested on numerous charges, including conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and conspiracy to illegally transport firearms. Yee, a prominent foe of assault weapons, allegedly took bribes to set up a meeting between an undercover agent and an international arms dealer to broker the sale of automatic weapons and shoulder-fired missiles. A lengthy FBI affidavit also describes Yee's ties to a Chinese triad and his desire to help out Islamist militants.
In short, the story makes for what journalists call "good copy."
And yet, so far no reporter has raised the possibility that Yee supported tighter restrictions on guns in order to keep gun prices high and Yee's services in demand. Economist Bruce Yandle popularized the idea of the "Bootleggers and Baptists" coalition. The apocryphal Baptists want to ban alcohol. Bootleggers don't make much money when liquor can be bought legally at a grocery store or bar. So the bootleggers bankroll the Baptists' effort to ban booze.
Now I sincerely doubt that Yee was that clever. The more likely explanation is that he believes in gun control and he's a greedy hypocrite (and maybe not too bright either). The fact that gun-control policies are to his advantage is just a happy coincidence.
What's interesting -- and vexing -- to me is that this sort of analysis is all the rage when it comes to conservatives and Republicans, and utterly incomprehensible to most journalists when it comes to liberals and Democrats.
Consider the Koch brothers, the billionaire businessmen and philanthropists. The Democratic Party raises vast sums off demonizing the Koch brothers. (Slate's David Weigel reports that fundraising e-mails mentioning the Kochs raised roughly three times as much as those that didn't mention them.) This explains why Sen. Majority leader Harry Reid calls the Kochs "un-American" and liars every chance he gets.
Meanwhile, many media outlets are all too willing to take their cues from Democratic talking points. For instance, the Washington Post recently ran a shockingly shabby story insinuating that the Kochs have a lot to gain from the Keystone pipeline. The story was utterly debunked by John Hinderaker of the website Powerline. (The Kochs have no stake in the pipeline, and even if they did, so what?) But the Post's piece was typical of the media's fascination with the idea that the Kochs' political activities are simply cover for their desire to maximize profits.