Courage and the gun vote: Shortly after last week’s gun vote, Dana Milbank helped us see who had, and hadn’t, been courageous.
We think this sort of thing is usually fairly dumb. Your results may differ:
MILBANK (4/18/13): Courage was in short supply at the Capitol on Wednesday. The overwhelming majority of Americans favor the sort of background checks that Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) had proposed to keep weapons from the felonious and the insane. A majority of senators supported it, too. But too many cowered in the face of fierce opposition from the National Rifle Association.Pundits love to tell these stories—but were these senators brave? Was McCain brave, or has he decided that the will never run again? Was Toomey brave, or was his stance the smart political move in a blue-to-purplish state?
There were moments of courage on the Senate floor Wednesday. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), seriously ill with cancer, had traveled to Washington to cast his vote. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave an uncharacteristically moving speech explaining why he was reversing his position and would vote for a ban on military-style assault rifles (the proposal failed, 40 to 60). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) defied most in his party to speak, and vote, in favor of the background-check measure.
Bravest of all were Manchin and Toomey, both risking their "A" ratings from the NRA to follow their consciences. "This isn't gun control, this is common sense," Toomey told his colleagues in the closing minutes of Wednesday's debate.
Did Harry Reid show courage? Or would any other approach have been politically crazy?
We don’t think the answers are always obvious. For us, it’s hard to see how Manchin wasn’t bucking the politics given the nature of his state—though we’re willing to be corrected. But when pundits start handing out badges of courage, their work often seems a bit childish:
DIONNE (4/23/13): But the vote also demonstrated for all to see a Republican Party walking in lock step behind its commanders in the gun lobby. Only four Republicans bravely defied the NRA’s fanatical opposition to a very mild measure: Toomey and Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain and Susan Collins.Are Kirk (from Illinois) and Collins (from Maine) really in the same position as solons from Georgia or Tennessee? Did they “bravely” defy the odds? Or were their odds just somewhat different?
This should send a message to all who keep looking for new signs of Republican moderation.
Republicans who cultivate a reputation for reasonableness—their ranks include, among others, Sens. Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Kelly Ayotte, Saxby Chambliss, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman—could not even vote for a watered-down proposal. This tells us that the GOP has become a coalition of the fearful. In a pinch, the party’s extreme lobbies rule.
“Ardent for some desperate glory,” pundits frequently let us know who was and wasn’t courageous. In this passage, Jonathan Capehart reacts to Heidi Heitkamp’s recent votes, including her vote against Manchin-Toomey:
CAPEHART (4/22/13): Heitkamp’s response shouldn’t have been too surprising. She has an A rating from the feared National Rifle Association. She hails from a red state that went for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney over President Obama by 20 points. And she won her seat by one percentage point. Still, her comments left many Democrats to wonder if Heitkamp was a Democrat in name only. So, when the parade of Democratic senators coming out for same-sex marriage got underway, Heitkamp must have seen it as a way to prove her Democratic bona fides to the national party.To the highly punitive Capehart, Heitkamp wasn’t even “courageous” when she voted for marriage equality. Meanwhile, Capehart is shocked when a Democrat from a state which buried Obama last year doesn’t vote all the votes he would like.
After considerable pressure from activists and the media, Heitkamp said yes to marriage equality on April 5. But she was hardly courageous. Heitkamp was the fifth of six senators to do so that week and the 52nd senator overall to support same-sex marriage. More importantly, anti-gay groups no longer have a NRA equivalent to keep politicians in line. The arguments against civil rights for lesbians and gay men as espoused by the Family Research Council have lost their power. And groups such as the National Organization for Marriage have been discredited.
To our taste, liberal pundits tend to be wasting everyone’s time when they hand out citations for bravery in the wake of such votes. By way of contrast, we will recommend Kevin Drum’s reaction to the failed gun safety vote.
We’ve been outworked by the NRA down through the years, Kevin Drum basically said. In effect, he urged a long-term fight to persuade more voters about the need for stronger laws—in part, to drive up voter intensity on our side of this fight. In truth, ten percent can beat ninety percent if the ten percent strongly care.
We will recommend Drum’s post, including its long-term graph from Gallup concerning public opinion about the need for tougher gun laws. (That said, do we still trust long-term graphs from Gallup? Discuss.) In the meantime, let’s consider one more part of Dionne’s column:
DIONNE: [Gabrielle] Giffords’s frustration echoed sentiment all across her side of the debate. In the past, Democrats who support gun safety had reacted benignly to members of their party from rural states who opposed sensible gun measures for expediency’s sake. Not this time. The response to Democrats who opposed background checks—Sens. Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Heidi Heitkamp and Mark Pryor—was indignation.Translation: “In the past,” we liberals haven’t worked or pushed very hard on gun issues. Our team has been outworked on this topic, as on many other topics and issues.
Not unlike the city mouse, we get angry when we lose after all those indolent years.
Today, our pundits rise to call people names. Is there any topic on which these folk have been brave or courageous down through these mush-speaking years?