Why do the media consider the filibuster a strong, principled stance under Democrat leadership, but an obstructionist tool when used by Republicans? This media double standard has been used consistently during the current and past administration, and is currently being used to shame Republicans on the gun control debate. “For a party who is commonly regarded as “inflexible” and “unwilling to compromise” being seen as the side that ended gun control without even a vote further add to a very negative perception of the GOP,” writes Chris Cillizza this week about the President’s latest initiative. His piece describes the pitfalls of “Why Republicans shouldn’t filibuster the gun bill.”
But Democrats themselves filibustered many initiatives when they were the minority in Congress. Let’s take a moment to see how they were treated. “After Republicans won complete control of Congress in the recent elections, Democrats took some comfort in the notion that Democratic senators could filibuster any truly egregious Republican initiatives and that it would take 60 votes—way more than the 51- or 52-seat Republican majority—to overcome such a filibuster,” reported David E. Rosenbaum back in 2002 (emphasis added). “But since they have been back in Washington, Democratic lawmakers have come to realize that some big items on the Republican agenda are immune to filibuster.” In other words, Democrats should be afraid of the Republican legislative agenda.
In 2007, the technique, when used by Republicans, was condemned as anti-democratic. “Although Democrats weren’t shy about gumming up the works during the years of the Republican majority that ended in January, some are becoming frustrated with the growing use of what they see as an anti-democratic tactic,” wrote Ken Dilanian for USA Today. At least Dilanian seemed aware of this double standard and reported it.
For Cillizza, one of the major reasons against filibustering the gun bill is the overwhelming polled support for background checks, which the legislation expands.
Investors Business Daily argues in a recent editorial that Obama is using the gun control debate to deflect from the more important question, that of the economy. “But in this he is failing,” they write. “Thus, it might not be a coincidence that he is pouring most of his time and energy into a crusade that helps the middle class not a whit but polls well.”
Indeed, the issue does poll well when restricted to gun shows and private sales. The question asked was “Would you support or oppose a law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows?” and the answer was an overwhelming 91% in favor. However, some might balk at the idea that these background checks might create a registry that could later be used to track those in America who own guns. As always, the devil is in the details.
“So, in that regard, we think the current legislation, the current proposal on universal background checks raises two significant concerns,” the liberal American Civil Liberty Union’s (ACLU) Chris Calabrese recently told The Daily Caller. These two concerns are that the current legislation’s “record-keeping provision” could be the precursor to a national gun registry, and secondly, the legislation creates a tip line for reporting “potentially dangerous students,” according to Vince Coglianese with The Daily Caller. “We think that that kind of record-keeping requirement could result in keeping long-term detailed records of purchases and creation of a new government database,” said Calabrese. How would this poll instead of the more vague question about background checks?
As for the tip line, this could easily be abused, as is shown by the hysterics of some school districts following the Sandy Hook massacre. For example, in Maryland a student was suspended for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and saying “bang, bang.”
“In the 11 weeks since the massacre, at least two young children in the Washington region have been suspended for pointing their fingers like guns, and a 10-year-old in Alexandria was arrested by police for showing a toy gun to others on his school bus,” reported Donna St. George for The Washington Post last month. “In Pennsylvania, a 5-year-old was suspended for talking to classmates about shooting her ‘Hello Kitty’ gun—which blows bubbles.”
One must also ask how effective would this gun registry be at preventing another Adam Lanza shooting spree? After all, “No practicable system of background checks would have prevented Sandy Hook, where the gunman used weapons legally purchased by his mother,” argues Investors Business Daily.
While many supporters of stricter gun regulations are very disappointed with the bills that the Senate is now considering, considering them weak and watered down, President Obama continues to make his case, based on emotion and demagoguery. The late compromise on background checks between West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey seems to suggest that a bill will most likely pass this week.
In a New York Post column by Jacob Sullum, the senior editor of the libertarian Reason magazine, he cites the President’s basic argument that Obama has made since the Newtown massacre: it was a “reason to enact the same gun controls he has always supported—including ‘universal background checks,’ a renewed ‘assault weapon’ ban and a 10-round limit on magazines—even though these policies could not possibly have prevented that horrific attack. He calls this ‘common sense.’”
Sullum points out some of the inherent flaws in President Obama’s plans to do something, anything, whether it might have made a difference in Newtown, or not. “Instead of explaining, for example, how background checks can thwart mass killers, who typically don’t have disqualifying criminal or psychiatric records and who in any event can use guns purchased by someone else (as Lanza did), Obama simply assumes his plan will work and insinuates that anyone who opposes it does not care about children as much as he does.”
“Even as he claims to be troubled by a lack of empathy in the gun-control debate, Obama refuses to entertain the possibility that his opponents, like him, are doing what they believe to be right.”
This latter point raises the question of politicians willing to oppose legislation that is supposedly supported by 91% of the American public. If the bill’s supporters really believe those numbers, shouldn’t they give credit to those willing to vote against something so extraordinarily popular, as being highly principled, even if they think they are wrong?
On Monday of this week, President Obama accused the opponents of the new legislation, even though some are Democrats from Red states, as “powerful interests that are very good at confusing the subject, that are good at amplifying conflict and extremes, that are good at drowning out rational debate, good at ginning up irrational fears.”
Sullum responded that this is what’s coming from Obama, “from a man who says mass shootings, which remain thankfully rare, are becoming ‘routine;’ who falsely asserts that Lanza used a ‘fully automatic weapon’ and habitually conflates military-style semi-automatics with machine guns; and who claims background checks have ‘prevented more than 2 million dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun’—when in fact we don’t know how many of those people were actually dangerous or how many were actually prevented from obtaining firearms.”
Sullum concludes that “Obama’s idea of ‘rational debate’ involves trotting out grieving parents and presenting their pain as if it were an argument.” One has to wonder if Obama is looking for solutions, or a wedge issue with which to run against Republicans in 2014.
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.