The dominant media narrative on President Obama’s epic failure on gun control last week is to blame it on political cowardice in the senate. But that consensus is wrong: the problem was not a lack of courage; it was a lack of trust.
Simply put: supporters of gun rights didn’t trust the president, his party, or the federal government even on a relatively modest piece of gun legislation. And while Obama was quick to point his finger at bitter clingers and the NRA for that trust deficit, he really has no one but himself to blame.
Consider the angry language he used as he reacted to the senate vote. It was, he said, "a pretty shameful day for Washington."
"The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill," Obama said in the rose garden about 90 minutes after the vote.
"A minority in the U.S. Senate decided it wasn’t worth it. They blocked common-sense gun reforms, even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery. It’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans just voted against that idea."
Obama said that Senators who voted against it were so gutless that they had "no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn't do this. It came down to politics."
This was a remarkable performance – remarkable in the raw contempt the president expressed toward his political opponents and even some members of his own party.
There was in Obama’s view no principled opposition. There was no rational basis for not giving the president what he wanted. His opponents did not simply have other ideas that needed to be respected and accommodated; they were cowards and liars.
His message to Red State America: I really, really despise you.
Obama’s attitude is not new, of course. Longtime students of the president will recall his 2008 characterization of his fellow citizens: "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment …"
Bitter, ignorant, and bigoted.
This was not a gaffe or a slip; it was a revealing glimpse into Obama’s political id, the full-on sneering contempt of the academic/political/media elite in its fullest expression.
Why does the president feel free to express such naked disdain for his countrymen? Because they are not his voters. And the media will not call him on it because, by and large, they share his attitudes.
People who cling to their guns, or merely to the Constitution, aren't part of the coalition that Mr. Obama believes re-elected him, and his mistake was thinking they would simply dissolve into history's rearview mirror in his new progressive era.
This brings us back to last week’s failure on gun control.
For Obama, the problem was not the senators; it was the folks back home who will vote next year; and those folks simply did not trust the Obama Administration to protect their Second Amendment rights. Was that because they had been lied to or were deluded? Or was it because they had been watching and listening to the president and his party?
For compromise to work, there needs to be at least some level of confidence of good will or trust. Obama squandered that trust long before he stepped into the rose garden to bemoan his defeat.
In the wake of Newtown, Obama could have reached out for a broader consensus, but instead launched what appeared to be a full out attack on guns and gun owners. Rather than build on the momentum of the national revulsion at the shootings, Obama decided to create a new wedge issue and push it as hard as he could. Obama was less interested in winning than he was in defeating his enemies.
Feeling emboldened by the anti-gun jihad, Obama’s elite allies made no attempt to hide their lip-curling contempt for gun rights advocates and their arguments about the Second Amendment.
Meanwhile, there were parallel attacks on gun rights in state governments controlled by Democrats. Gun bans in New York, Maryland and Connecticut, editorialized the Journal, were "in plain defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court."
This did not go unnoticed. There were runs on gun stores across the country.
The President might have forged a compromise from the political center out that reduced gun violence at the margins while respecting Second Amendment rights. Instead, liberals cleaned out their ideological cupboards in favor of gun restrictions that would have little practical effect but would have notched a symbolic victory over the National Rifle Association and those benighted rubes in the provinces. By so overreaching, Mr. Obama couldn't even steamroll moderate members of his own party….
Tellingly, the White House blew up earlier negotiations with Tom Coburn on background checks. The Oklahoma Republican favored more and better checks across secondary firearms markets like gun shows and online, but liberals insisted that federally licensed dealers had to keep records.
In other words, keeping guns away from dangerous or unstable people was less important than defeating the NRA.
So in the end, he got nothing, except another opportunity to tell his fellow Americans what he thought of them.