by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Should Americans be concerned about “spineless pols” who “spit on the graves of Newtown victims” by refusing to approve a ban on dubiously labeled assault weapons? James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal doesn’t think so.
Taranto describes the defeat of an assault weapons ban in the U.S. Senate as a victory against a bad idea propped up by over-the-top emotional appeals.
This columnist takes considerable pleasure in these emotionally overwrought laments, which are a synecdoche for the failure of the entire post-Newtown gun-control effort. As Fournier puts it, Obama and his allies wished “to convert the tragedy . . . into commonsense common good.” We disagree on the merits and would put it this way: They cynically sought to exploit a horrific crime in order to promote dubious policies that they had long wished to impose but had refrained from pushing for fear of the political consequences.
There was never very much to the argument other than demagogic appeals to emotion. As we noted Friday, when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein a (not especially difficult) question about the constitutional rationale for her proposed ban, she “responded viscerally,” as NPR put it, saying: “I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in–I saw people shot. I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I’ve seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered.”
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow turned up the emotional temperature even higher with what one enthusiast called an “epic rant” against Cruz. Maddow made much of the 1978 assassination of George Moscone, Feinstein’s predecessor as San Francisco mayor. Naturally, Maddow neglected to mention that Moscone’s murderer used a pistol, not an “assault rifle.” …
… Not only did the effort fail, it wasn’t even close. Despite the Democrats’ 55-seat majority, it didn’t take a Senate filibuster to sink the Feinstein proposal, which wasn’t even close to majority support. Politico.com quoted Majority Leader Harry Reid as saying that “her amendment, using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes.” (It’s not clear if he meant “optimistic” from the viewpoint of supporters or opponents.)
Demagogy is a hazard of democracy; one reason we have a bill of rights is to protect individuals against the political temptation to offer up scapegoats to satisfy their constituents’ emotions. (See yesterday’s column for another example.) But this effort failed notwithstanding the undeniable emotional pull of a horrific crime against children. Americans should be proud whenever our political system proves this resistant to unreason.