I’ve now read two opinion pieces, one by Charlie Pierce at Esquire last week and another by Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect today, saying that the failure of various gun control measures proves that presidential leadership doesn’t work. They’re writing to defend President Obama from charges that he doesn’t use his position effectively to lobby for legislation he wants.
Both writers cited the speeches Obama has made and events he attended in the months since the massacre of innocents at Newtown. The number of these speeches and events can be described as a handful, as can the number of months since Newtown. What Pierce and Bouie are saying, then, is that the President, with a handful of speeches and events during a handful of months, failed to overcome a deeply entrenched and effective gun lobby, and this proves that previous criticism of his lack of leadership is bunkum, that presidents, particularly ones facing the kind of opposition this one does, simply don’t have the power and influence to sway public opinion and legislator’s votes.
Part of the failure, which really shouldn’t be described as failure until the President gives up, is Harry Reid’s. The background check measure that was filibustered to death today would have passed, with a few Republicans voting “yes” and a few Democrats “no,” had Reid reined in the filibuster when he had the chance.
The other part of the failure can be laid at the feet of Pierce and Bouie and anyone else who thinks stumping for some legislation for a few months and giving up if you lose constitutes leadership. If the President keeps working for it and gun control proponents in Congress bring this legislation up repeatedly during this session and the next, and it still doesn’t pass, then we can talk. If he doesn’t keep at it, then it wasn’t leadership but a passing enthusiasm.
Republicans don’t give up this easily. They bring up the stupidest and nastiest ideas in the form of legislation every day they can for decades until they get what they want. Bush George-un worked his ass off, in his own way, on behalf of the Iraq invasion, campaigning for it almost daily for more than a year, sending out every recognizable name in his administration with every manner of lie, working the press like a geisha — a favor returned in spades — even when he was on vacation until he got a majority of legislators and ultimately a public majority to back him. That was leadership. He should be painting his little doggie portraits in a cell in the Hague because of it, but it was leadership.
If Democrats brought up Medicare-for-all legislation every year for 40 years, even when they were the minority, campaigned on it, built think tanks around it, I’m pretty sure we would have Medicare for all right now. Instead, we have comically low official tax rates for rich people and comically low effective ones for huge, profitable corporations, and a continuing erosion of social welfare and social insurance programs. This is not coincidence.
The President seems genuinely put out by the fate of the background check measure. I hope he doesn’t read what Pierce wrote — which includes, not for the first time, the sentiment that Obama is too good for America — and what Bouie wrote, and instead takes for his example people like James Brady and Gabrielle Giffords, who intend to keep trying despite suffering the effects of having been shot in the head, which is worse than not getting your way on some legislation that you put a few months of effort into.
Mr. Pierce, Mr. Bouie: grow up.