This latest shootdown in the Senate seems to consolidate – at least in my own mind – a certain dynamic with regard to this administration that goes beyond the cover story. Granted, any new regulation of firearms has uncertain prospects. But everything I’ve heard about the latest campaign was different. There seemed to be a sort of resignation by the diehards that something needed to be done or else their position would lose all credibility. It was too obvious that the deadliest lunatics are often undetectable until a full-blown tragedy exposes them. Then all the psychobabble about “missed signs” leave you with the helpless awareness that none of it counts a lick at preventing the next such attack.
That’s why it seemed – at least as far as the Senate was concerned – that we were entering a new era. The “Sandy Hook” massacre was so horrendous that it lingers in the mind, even now, as a challenge for any society that values decency. That challenge seemed inescapable, and raised hopes that the needle would be moved – even if only slightly – towards the eventual development of a rational system of gun control. For how could it be otherwise? Even libertarianism must give way to plain common sense when it comes to protecting the citizenry, which is as close to a “must do” function of any government as you can have.
But, shockingly, these expectations were shattered. Sixty votes were needed to block the threatened fillibuster; the count was 54 to 46, not really a squeaker. Was it meant to show that Republicans can still mobilize for a united front? To what purpose? From a “normal” perspective, to unite behind the “right” to enable future mass murderers to enjoy the “liberty” of killing at will is insane. Didn’t the party leaders see the risk?
On reflection, I think that Republicans were aware of all of that, but still felt protected by something else altogether, something that has no connection to gun control. It is simply the absolute rejection of the current administration, and everything it stands for. They felt confident that blocking the vote would be seen as simple defiance, and when the object of that defiance is sufficiently reviled, as he is by a significant minority of Americans, there is protection in demonstrating that defiance for its own sake, no matter what actual problem is at issue.
If immigration reform is defeated this year, as is distinctly possible even though the current system is a total wreck, I think that this posture must be seen as a factor. There is probably no other area where Republicans stand to gain as much, especially if its most visible Hispanic leader, Marco Rubio, will ride its success to the 2016 nomination. Conversely, its defeat will be seen as an enormous blow to his chances. But we shouldn’t undervalue its potential to stop the movement in its tracks. For the President to get any share of credit for that achievement may be enough to do just that. The rock-hard hostility in the base is as solid as ever. For many Republicans, the greater risk may be in failing to appease it.