homicides in the United States. In Japan, there were eleven.
Not eleven thousand, eleven. On January 16, 2013, in response
to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and other national
tragedies, President Obama announced a plan for improving the
control of firearms in the United States and providing greater
access to mental health services. The plan included proposals
for new laws to be passed by Congress, as well as a series of
executive actions not requiring Congressional approval. On
Wednesday, April 17th, the U.S. Senate rejected bipartisan gun
safety legislation, despite a multi-million dollar campaign and
emotional pleas from the Sandy Hook victims, due to
Republican-led opposition and threat of filibuster. “All in all,
this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” an angry Obama
said of the vote, adding the effort, “is not over.” Yes it is,
and he knows it. It’s over, at least for now.
It is worth noting the legislation, by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, actually passed 54-46 in the Senate, but was dropped not because it lacked the votes to pass but that it lacked the votes to overcome a threatened Republican-led filibuster. It takes 60 votes to overrule a Senate filibuster (called a “cloture vote”), which, specifically in the Age of Obama (the age of the first black president) has repeatedly undermined our constitutional liberties by ending majority rule in this country. Once considered extreme, Senate filibusters ware rarely invoked, used an average of 7 times per Congressional session in the 1960s, once or twice per session before then. Since Obama’s swearing in, no Democrat has filibustered any Senate bill. Republicans, however, have filibustered virtually every bill, some 252 times in the 11th and 112th Congress (source: U.S. Senate Action on Cloture Motions). A filibuster once required a senator to actually stand there talking non-stop, without rest or food or even a bathroom break, in order to prevent a vote on a bill. The new, inexplicably stupid “modern” rule, however, is any senator can merely invoke the *rules* of filibuster—without actually having to even show up in the well of the Senate—and, until he or she releases the bill from that rule (or the Senate comes up with 60 votes to end the filibuster), the bill cannot proceed to a vote.
I’m not sure who thought that rule up or even how it passes constitutional scrutiny, but the way the Senate now handles the filibuster rule has changed the very nature of democracy in this country. The Senate’s lack of will to act on even the half-a-loaf gun safety legislation (the only meaningful provision required “universal” background checks for gun purchases) cast a deeply shameful pall on an already disgraced institution.
The main reason the timid and mostly useless gun safety legislation failed is the nation’s distrust of the federal government’s integrity and competency, a distrust both proven and fed by the very same politicians who obstructed this gun legislation. The wave of distrust, once limited only to extremists, has been reinforced repeatedly by Republican extremists who pander to the build-your-own-still crowd while mocking them at the same time. This nation’s history proves all politicians play toward mob rule and can only be arm-twisted into taking a stand by being either bribed with political gets or granted safe harbor and political cover by a third party. Most all historically meaningful legislation every passing through this nation’s legislature has had to overcome the ignorant superstition and fear of those least-informed among us, a group politicians both liberal and conservative pander to in order to keep their jobs. It is, historically, the stupid people, the fearful people, the low information people, the soccer moms trapped in their Barney The Dinosaur / Mommy and Me snow globes, the tattooed rednecks storing up AR-15’s and ammo, who form the groundswell of public opinion. The percentage of blacks and Asians among this crowd is near-imperceptible. These are, for the most part, low-information, lower-income whites whose public perception is often shaped much more by fear than by hope. These are the Sarah Palins, the Michele Bachmanns, clinging to their guns and religion. This is the group that sits in the way of any good our nation’s legislature may ever do, who have opposed civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, gun safety, health reform, farming legislation—all in the name of Jesus and country. This is the crowd every legislator must wade into, hip deep, in order to get even common-sense legislation like background checks done.
These are the people pols like Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell are beholden to, as this Old Rich White Man who dines
most every night in splendor and golfs and exclusive country
clubs, pretends to be one of. “I’m one of you.” McConnell and
phonies like him, cranky Arizona Senator John McCain among them,
pander to these people for whom they demonstrate an obvious
contempt at the same time. In order to keep their jobs, these
guys stand in the way of doing what’s right, obstructing and
demagoging, stuck on the wrong side of history time and time
again. And they know it. I presume they drink themselves to
sleep at night over some of the hateful, destructive and
pandering votes they’ve cast. These men and women have a clear
record of placing politics ahead of public policy and are, by
that record, clearly more concerned with keeping their jobs than
they are with actually doing any good or getting anything done
Most of the nation who’d actually finished high school truly believed the Newton shootings would be the tipping point. We were perfectly content to ignore the 300-500 shooting deaths annually in places like Pittsburg and Chicago because those were black teens and young men and it was all likely drug related so good riddance. But most thinking, thoughtful people certainly presumed twenty dead first and second graders and six dead teachers, mostly white, killed by the hand of a deranged white man, would have some meaningful impact on public policy. Instead, as usual, our legislators ran for cover, first watering the bill down to virtually nothing, then threatening to filibuster the nothing, then dropping the bill not because it lacked the votes but because Republicans, specifically, would block it from even coming up for one.
This is a desperately sad and shameful time in our nation’s history. What’s even more shameful is that this business will be long-forgotten by November 2014, when many of these same cowards will easily and effortlessly be reelected.