Of course, like stem cells and gays in the military, the gun issue poses a problem for a president who benefited electorally from the death of cultural outrage, as well as the dormancy of the culture wars.
In the 2008 general election, Obama was able to win the Catholic vote (a bloc that may well go against him next time), and to win states like Virginia where issues like gun control have in the past haunted liberal Democratic candidates.
Of course, it could be argued that one of the reasons conservatives have done poorly of late is that many of the hot-button issues which galvanized conservatives have now been settled. A prime example of an issue which had been taken off the table is the gun issue. After losing many elections, liberals, for the most part, gave up on efforts to curtail second amendment rights. This allowed them to win governorships in states like Virginia (see Mark Warner and Tim Kaine) and to elect Congressmen in conservative states like North Carolina (see Heath Schuler).
But just as Obama has been pressured by the left to pacify his liberal base on other issues, the recent shooting may force him to, at least, return to more liberal anti-gun rhetoric of the past.
This weekend, I did a BloggingHeadsTV segment (to be posted shortly) with Rachel Sklar, who raised this issue. Her argument was essentially that there should be more gun registration and gun licensing laws (and a way to close the gun show loophole) because, as she noted, you need a license to do just about everything else...
Of course, defenders of the second amendment see licensing as a veiled attempt to limit gun ownership, a slippery-slope method to ban all guns, a way for Big Brother to keep track of citizens who own guns -- or all three.
While additional licensing may sound like a harmless compromise, I would propose to those who support this notion that they consider applying their second amendment solutions to the first amendment. After all, if the pen is mightier than the sword, shouldn't bloggers be
Regardless of where you stand on this issue, though, I think it is very clear Democrats have benefitted tremendously from the decline of hot-button cultural issues. In some cases (like the gun issue), the issue has become less important because Democrats have proactively "hugged" Republicans on this issue. In other cases, the public may have moved leftward.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Republicans were in power -- and thus, the public could not blame Democrats. Regardless, if Obama and the Democrats are not careful (and humble regarding the tenuousness of power), they may find themselves reawakening the same powerful populist forces that propelled Republicans to victory in 1994.