It has long been axiomatic among political professionals that gun-rights supporters vote based on the gun issue, while those who favor more restrictive gun laws don't. Consequently, office-holders believe that contradicting the National Rifle Association (NRA) carries a political cost, while supporting the NRA's position doesn't, even when the group is at odds with what most Americans want. That may partly explain why expanded background checks, which polls have shown enjoy the support of nine out of ten Americans, weren't able to overcome a Republican filibuster to pass the Senate.
One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn't able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month.
The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don't confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that's an entirely separate national prayer event. Here's Barack Obama's proclamation of the day, though beyond that I don't think the government is actually doing much to honor it. That slack is picked up by the quasi-official National Day of Prayer Task Force, a decidedly evangelical Christian group chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson. This year's honorary chair is California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, whose participation led to protests from gay rights groups unhappy with Laurie's particular view of sin and sexuality. Laurie will be leading prayer events on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon today. The theme of this year's events is "Pray for America," the message being that everything is pretty much going to hell (so to speak) in our country, and the only thing that can get us back on the right track is Jesus.
This morning, Republican senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania made an astonishing admission: The whole reason Republicans opposed expanded background checks for gun-purchasers was President Obama. It wasn't that the president went too far or that he was making unreasonable demands; it was just that Obama supported the proposal on the table. As Toomey said, “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”
That is incredible. It’s as if a good chunk of the GOP has regressed to kindergarten, where they refuse to play with toys that someone else likes.
If there’s a silver lining to this revelation, it’s that it offers a way forward for President Obama as he tries to pursue his agenda. Namely, he has to pretend that it isn’t his agenda.
Here in America we have a long tradition of candidates who run for office telling voters that they'll be good at making laws because they know nothing about making laws. This is a longtime pet peeve of mine, particularly the "I'm a businessman, not a politician" variant (see here, for example), but the idea that "outsiders" who aren't beholden to the ways of the Capitol can be successful in curing it of its less appealing habits is almost as old as the republic itself. In ordinary circumstances, people who don't know anything about legislating are usually equally unfamiliar with what it takes to run a successful campaign, so most of them get weeded out by election day. The last couple of elections have not, however, been ordinary.
I bring this up because of a story today in Politico that makes the Republican House of Representatives look like even more of a mess than you might have imagined. I'll get to the issue of "outsider" politicians in a moment, but here's an excerpt:
Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in early 2010, I've held more than one opinion on just how the American public will feel about it as time goes by. Initially, perhaps influenced by the momentousness of the Act's passage, I wrote that once it was actually implemented, it would be much harder for Republicans to attack. They would no longer be able to frighten people with phantoms of death panels, and instead would have to talk about reality. Since people would have their own experience with the law to judge from as opposed to some hypothetical future, the attacks would lose their potency, Republicans would back off, and the law would rise or fall in public esteem on its own merits.
Then I began to have second thoughts. One of the biggest problems, which I wrote about a few months later, is that Obamacare isn't a single program like Medicare that people can come to love. It's a whole bunch of pilot programs and new regulations, many of which involve private insurance or existing programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and when people are affected by those changes they won't necessarily see them as being part of Obamacare. For instance, beginning in January, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But to most people, interacting as they will be with private companies, it will look like Aetna or Blue Cross or whoever just got more humane, and they may not even know that the government made them do it. Even the exchanges, if they work well, will just be the place where you go to shop for private insurance. Your relationship with the insurer you choose will certainly be affected deeply by the ACA's regulations, but most people still won't understand exactly how.
Among the consequences are that Republicans will be absolutely free to continue to blame every problem anyone has with the health care system on Obamacare, without concern of producing a backlash from the law's supporters.