Tuesday, August 6, 2019


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Firearm Nation

My take:  In 1988, I was in my first job in journalism. A friend of mine from high school was working for Michael Dukakis’ Democratic presidential campaign. He was sent to do field work in Texas in the general election.

Dukakis, from Massachusetts, had selected Lone Star State Senator Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate, so the Democrats were putting in an effort in the state.  My friend was assigned to the Dallas metropolitan area, where he spent his days talking to voters, trying to persuade them to vote for the ticket.

He reported to me at the time that every day, nearly all the voters with whom he spoke said there was no chance they would vote for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket.  No chance.

Nearly all of them gave the same reason: Michael Dukakis wanted to take their guns away, they said, and if he were elected president, that is exactly what he would do.

Dukakis had all sorts of policy positions on a variety of issues.  He certainly was a supporter of stricter regulation of firearms. But he didn’t emphasize the matter in his campaign as a top issue, and he wasn’t for gun confiscation. 

My friend, a graduate of St Albans and Wesleyan University, found all of this baffling, frustrating, and darkly humorous.

I did not grow up in a gun culture, but I have felt throughout my career that my friend’s experience, now more than 30 years old, taught me what I needed to know about the enduring emotional and political power of the relationship between many Americans and their guns.

This morning, I Googled “Dukakis gun control” and the first hit was this article.

I know you are busy. But stop and read this vintage piece if you want to understand why so many of our politicians have failed to act in the face of the frequent human slaughter by American citizens of other American citizens, including children, using guns.  No other industrialized democracy would tolerate this horrifying behavior.

On the other hand, consider these factors that would argue FOR the passage of more federal gun safety measures:

1. Often one can explain the behavior of Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy by looking at the wishes of their donors. In fact, most big Republican donors don’t care much about the Second Amendment, and some are in fact very pro gun control.

2.  Michael Bloomberg, Gabby Giffords, and others have raised and spent millions and millions of dollars in support of new measures, using sophisticated, focus group and poll-tested language and messaging, notably learning to talk about “gun safety” rather than “gun control.” They have also supported pro-restriction candidates.

3. As I wrote Monday, the NRA is not as powerful as it once was, a trend that began even before their recent internal problems.

4. The press is 95% in favor of more gun control, and the coverage reflects that.  Even some conservative media – the New York Post, for example — now supports more gun restrictions.

5. We have seen some particularly horrific acts of violence in the last few years, including but not limited to Newtown and Parkland.

6. Barack Obama was the most pro-gun control president in American history.

7. Senator Pat Toomey, who talked to Mitch McConnell and President Trump Monday about gun safety ideas, is a Republican from a state steeped in gun culture who has in the last few years been an outspoken supporter of some firearm safety legislation, demonstrating it is politically possible for Republicans to support bipartisan measures that have broad public support.

8. Several prominent retired members of the military have come out for gun safety measures in recent years.

9. Public opinion polling consistently shows overwhelming, or, at least, clear-cut support for most of the gun safety provisions that Democrats support.

10. Democratic presidential candidates, governors, and members of Congress are not nearly as politically afraid to openly support gun measures as they were just a few years ago.

And yet Mitch McConnell by all appearances feels under ZERO pressure to even pretend to be considering legislation to address this national crisis.

McConnell is generally pretty impervious to pressure, especially pressure that comes from the media or Democrats, but the list above on the surface would suggest something of a puzzle.

It all makes perfect sense to me, however, based on the stories my friend told me over thirty years ago.

Politico:Republicans hide behind Trump in gun debate

And/but Politico:Trump explores executive action on guns (which notes that Attorney General Barr has a history of supporting gun safety measures and/but that the president has a history of touting executive action and then backing off when the public spotlight shifts)

“’He would be a disaster for the Second Amendment,’ Gun Owners of America, a pro-gun nonprofit, wrote weeks before Barr’s confirmation vote in February.”

Wall Street Journal: “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said he spoke with the president Monday. Mr. Graham and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said they had reached an agreement on a framework for a new statute that would provide grants and other incentives to states to enable law-enforcement authorities and courts to confiscate firearms if a gun owner poses a danger to him or herself or to another person. Mr. Blumenthal said they would introduce the legislation ‘in the very near future,’ and Mr. Graham said in a statement that Mr. Trump was ‘very supportive.’”

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who used to be a member of the leadership, also wants bipartisan action. 

House Democrats debate the best way to pressure McConnell – come back into special session and pass more gun legislation or stand pat and focus on the Senate’s failure to act on what has already moved through the House.  The answer, if past is prologue, is that McConnell is unlikely to be compelled to act by either gambit.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who leads his own nation-state, sums up the opposition view of the Senate majority leader:

“Mitch McConnell is a coward. He’s abdicated leadership. Do your job, put it up for a vote.”

David Axelrod sums up the opposition view of the president’s remarks:

“If you laid that speech next to videos of his rallies, it’s mind-boggling. He said what you’d want the president to say. The problem is that in real life, he’s a provocateur, not a healer, and his whole political project depends on those provocations. And so how long will it be before he returns to ‘Twitter Trump’ stirring the pot? How long before the next rally when he uses the dehumanizing language that he decried in his remarks today?”


In other news:

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is very unhappy with the US-China trade war escalating into a currency war.

My take: With world markets taking a beating, is hard to argue with Paul Krugman on this (especially when he and the Journal ed board are in strange-bedfellow agreement):

“More sensible people hoped that [Trump] might do what he did with NAFTA: reach a new deal basically the same as the old deal, proclaim that it was totally different, and claim a great victory.”

“But no: it’s pretty clear now that he refuses to give up on his belief that trade wars are good, and easy to win; his plan is to continue the beatings until morale improves. What may have looked like temporary tariffs designed to win concessions now look like permanent features of the world economy, with the level of tariffs and the range of countries facing them likely to expand over time.”

Since the current trajectory could cost the president re-election, it seems rational that he will seek an off ramp.  But the strategy he adopted presumed China would give in, or, at least, compromise.  That apparent miscalculation means the president faces a choice of continued escalation (ruinous) or humiliating unilateral de-escalation (ruinous in its own way).

NY Post: AOC takes on McConnell over offensive photo.

My take: It would be interesting to know AOC’s approval rating in Kentucky and McConnell’s approval rating in AOC’s district.  There are serious issues here; if the fight escalates, the warfare will be asymmetrical across a lot of dimensions.

Top sports story: Source: No. 1 hoops prospect Mobley commits to USC
ESPN

Top business story: China Acts to Limit Yuan Plunge, Bringing Some Relief to Markets
Bloomberg

Top entertainment story: Tencent in Talks to Buy 10% of Universal Music Group
Variety


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