What matters more? War around the world, or mass shootings at home?
hat’s the difference between these two Democrats, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Rep. Barbara Lee of California? Chris Murphy puts on a pointless, pompous filibuster to achieve a meaningless vote on gun control measures he knows will never pass. Rep. Barbara Lee is in her 15th year of quietly trying to persuade ANY other Representative or Senator to accept constitutional responsibility for deciding whether or not the US should go to war. Guess who gets more attention?
What is wrong, truly, profoundly wrong with Democrats? Republicans are easy, they embrace their commitment to naked power without principle beyond a simple-minded checklist of ideological bumper sticker thoughts. That made voting for NRA-sponsored mass murder a no-brainer for Republicans (except those in states with a possibly conscious electorate).
But the Democrats – they are so far adrift in their own self-admiration they don’t even appear to realize what fools they’ve seemed chasing the folly of certain defeat with their “victorious” filibuster. It was “one of the longest filibusters” in Senate history, 15 hours – how sad is that? The party’s lemming-like vacuity was even lampooned in The Onion, where the preposterous Sen. Dianne Feinstein was portrayed as unable to get even an empty gun control measure through the Senate chamber door without its self-destructing. Dianne Feinstein pushing gun control is like Donald Trump pushing tax fairness – believe it when it’s real. Dianne Feinstein owes her career to lax gun laws as much as Trump owes his wealth to special tax breaks for the rich.
Even after showboating his way to the defeat he fully expected, Sen. Murphy couldn’t stop congratulating himself and his party for making such a whole-hearted effort to get nothing done:
“So on Wednesday, I took a stand with nearly 40 of my colleagues to demand that Congress do something – anything – to stop the slaughter of innocent victims of gun violence. Millions of Americans engaged in the debate and made their voices heard.”
Sen. Murphy himself illustrated the incoherent irrationality he and most Democrats bring to governing the United States. The day after touting his failure to get inadequate gun measures passed, Sen. Murphy was celebrating Connecticut’s contribution to the continuing threat of nuclear annihilation, calling the 100thanniversary of the New London nuclear submarine base a “momentous occasion” and adding: “We are incredibly proud that Connecticut is home to the Navy’s first and finest submarine base, and look forward to another 100 years.” Sen. Murphy may prattle demagogically about gun violence, but when it comes to nuclear weapons, another century is fine. For a Democrat, those priorities are standard numbness. For Republicans, they aren’t even issues, they are signs of weakness and a reluctance to use any weapons available.
What is it with Democrats fighting popular change?
The Democratic Party’s empty hoopla on gun issues is a vivid illustration of the party’s irrelevance to anything more significant than remaining in office. The measures before the Senate were timid, limited, and of limited likely usefulness – Potemkin gun control. In recent years, recent decades, the very best the Democrats have done amounts to grudging half-measures on war, on healthcare, on income stagnation for most, on police killing, on fossil fuel destruction of the planet, on almost anything that actually matters. In a zero-sum politics, no wonder they’re a minority party. Democrats are really good at mealy-mouthed sentiments in apparent support of the general welfare, but they follow up their empty words with empty gestures (did I mention the filibuster?). Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has an excellent piece about the dishonest arguments and moral blackmail that Democrats use to keep themselves in office and out of touch with America. He characterizes their moral imperialism this way:
“Beltway Democrats seem increasingly to believe that all people who fall within a certain broad range of liberal-ish beliefs owe their votes and their loyalty to the Democratic Party. That's why, as a socially liberal person who probably likes trees and wouldn't want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, Nader's decision to take votes from the party-blessed candidate Gore is viewed not as dissent, but as a kind of treason.”
For Democratic Party loyalists committed to their lame and ineffective incrementalism, Sen. Bernie Sanders wasn’t just an alternative, he was a traitor. Never mind that he had never sworn anything like allegiance to the Democratic Party in the first place. Never mind that any political party demanding near-absolute loyalty is not a democratic institution, but a corporate enterprise verging on the fascistic. Any political party that sees its members as true believers and others as apostates will eventually come to believe that staying in power is doing God’s work and that election fraud, for example, is a sacrament. A hermetic party with no guiding principles will find it useful to keep issues like “gun violence” alive with such techniques as offering empty non-solutions that face sure defeat. Why risk success? As Sen. Sanders described the deliberately futile vote:
"Frankly, these Democratic amendments are no-brainers. It is incomprehensible to me, and I believe to the vast majority of Americans, as to why Republicans would oppose them."
To be precise, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota voted to keep guns as available as ever, while two Republicans facing serious re-election challenges voted in favor of the almost-pointless proposals – Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Sen. Kirk has a D rating from the NRA, which gives an A to Sen. Ayotte. For Ayotte in particular, with a long history of Second Amendment absolutism, this was a transparently unprincipled vote. According to Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, the Republicans were successful in protecting terrorists’ right to bear arms, a Democratic demagogic meme put out by Senators Murphy and Elizabeth Warren. During the filibuster, Sen. Warren went even further off the sanity rails, calling the tormented gay shooter “a terrorist with hate is his heart and a gun in his hand that killed all those people” [emphasis added]. Then she preposterously added:
“And if we fail to act, the next time someone uses a gun to kill one of us, a gun that we could have kept out of the hands of a terrorist, then members of this Congress will have blood on our hands.”
That assertion is detached from reality. Congress already has blood on its hands, decades of blood on its hands. Congress has blood on its hands not only from its impotent response to mass shootings in America, but from endless wars, drone assassinations, depleted uranium poisoning, climate inaction, the list is long, add what you will.
There is NO Senatorial voice for serious gun control
When Sen. Sanders called the Democratic proposals no-brainers, he spoke more truly than he intended. The problems with Sen. Feinstein’s proposals is that they are modeled on unconstitutional, fear-based anti-communist laws of the 1950s – laws that let government bureaucrats put you on a list, without your knowledge and without any due process and with no avenue of appeal. That’s what all these terrorist watch lists and no-fly lists and the rest have in common – the accused is assumed guilty, with no opportunity to prove innocence. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has raised this issue, but Democrats and the independents who vote with them seem to be comfortable with autocratic measures carried out by anonymous officers with no systemic accountability. The Democratic dog and pony gun show was not merely a meaningless farce, it was rooted in an authoritarian impulse to which no Senator raised serious objection.
Having succeeded in making no changes in gun laws, Democrats appear to have no Plan B. The Democrats’ filibuster and the Senate vote were pseudo-events, as described long ago by Daniel Boorstin in his 1962 book The Image – they were designed and executed only to be reported, publicized, fill media space, not to achieve anything. Pseudo-events, sometimes called media events, pass too often for reality in our culture – which is exactly what they are intended to do. A real event would have been, for example, a filibuster carried on until enough Senators agreed to vote to ban assault weapons (defined, for the sake of argument, as semi-automatic with a clip of more than five shots). That’s the kind of real event an awful lot of people want to see, a desire that prompted the CODEPINK vigil in front of the National Rifle Association in Virginia, on June 20. That pseudo-event involved more than 100 activists camped out overnight, with 18 arrested in the morning for blocking the NRA entrance, a metaphor for blocking the NRA’s lethal influence.
As for the Second Amendment, it’s not a problem for rational people
After decades of NRA fear-mongering – and lying – about tyrannical government and other scary unrealities (pseudo-threats), some people, like Senators, have a hard time thinking rationally about the Second Amendment, which says, in its entirety:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
It starts with “regulation” and ends with “shall not be infringed,” creating an inherent contradiction than needs to be balanced, even in long absence of the once “necessary” precondition of a militia. What the Second Amendment does NOT say is that the people have a right to keep and bear any and all weapons. The clear implication is that there is a limit to what weapons people have a right to keep and hold, and setting that limit is a legislative function, except when legislators are terrorized by mobs like the NRA. It is surely a reasonable position to ban the people from keeping and bearing surface-to-air missiles. It is certainly a reasonable position not to ban the people from keeping and bearing handguns and long guns, though perhaps not in a crowded theatre. The discussion a reasonable government would have now – would have had and settled decades ago – is whether it’s reasonable to have the people keeping and bearing assault weapons.
The primary responsibility for our presently irrational government lies with the Republican Party, whose policy animus against President Obama is without precedent or principle. But the Democrats, with their patience and acquiescence, and acceptance of the unacceptable, have been enablers and co-conspirators in oligarchic government that primarily serves incumbents. Democrats, in Congress and the White House, have essentially rolled over and tolerated the intolerable, doing a minimum of governing, and perpetuating three decades of good times for the very few and increasingly bad times for the vast majority. The two-party system doesn’t seem capable of reducing mass shootings or doing anything else a majority of Americans want. Both parties are broken, but no new party has yet cohered with sufficient strength to challenge the duopoly, and the system is apparently too complicated (rigged) to allow that to happen in this election cycle.
The United States leads the world in mass shootings, by a wide margin – we’re #1! Australia confronted mass shootings head-on and hasn’t had a mass shooting in 20 years, but Australia has only 23 million people or so. This suggests that, perhaps, the mass shooting issue might be better addressed at the state level, as implied in the Second Amendment. And some states have acted to ban assault weapons, over strenuous objections from the NRA and fellow travelers. Two assault weapons cases reached the Supreme Court recently. While the Senate was putting on its clown show of futility, the Supreme Court on June 20 produced a real event with real consequences by refusing to hear challenges to assault rifle bans in two states. As a result, assault rifle bans in Connecticut and New York remain in force. This is far from a national solution, and Republicans are doing their best to protect mass shootings from further judicial activism by blocking any vote on the current nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, who is accused of supporting rational gun regulation.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland is again proposing amendments to a Pentagon spending bill calling on our government to consider serious questions of war and peace. It’s been a long road of irresponsibility at the highest levels of government. As Rep. Lee wrote in a June 21 email:
“Nearly 15 years ago, I cast the lone vote against the authorization for use of military force. The authorization was a blank check for any president to wage endless war and it has been used to justify war in 14 countries since 2001….
It is way past time for this debate. No president should have unchecked power to wage war and put our dedicated servicemen and women in danger. Congress must debate war, its costs and its consequences.”
Rep. Lee is not alone in her effort to restore constitutional authority over the president’s power to make war at will. She has bipartisan support, but she and her allies are in the minority. The Democrat does not have the support of her party. In May, when she offered a similar amendment, the vote against it was 285 to 138. Before the vote, President Obama issued a 17-page explanation of why, if the amendment passed, he would veto it. Democrats and Republicans alike refuse to interfere with the President’s freedom to use assault weapons, or drones, or any other means of killing people.