Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show on Thursday to discuss the gun-control battle, and said that President Obama is “feeling right now high on his own power.” Cruz also accused Obama of “exploiting the murder of children and using it to pus his own extreme anti-gun agenda.”
Later in the interview, Cruz predicted the gun-control push would backfire on Democrats in the 2014 Senate elections, particularly in “red states.” He mused that many Democrats running in such states must be “very, very nervous right now that President Obama is picking this fight.”
On the first point, there will probably always be a tendency for recently elected, and especially re-elected, Presidents to over-reach a bit. The trick is not to over-reach a lot. Even a President elected with a huge majority of the vote would not have unlimited political capital, and presidential elections aren’t settled by huge majorities any more. They probably won’t be again, given the nature of the polarized electorate, and the massive government system that polarizes them.
What Obama is trying to do with the gun-control debate, and with other actions such as the Chuck Hagel nomination for Secretary of Defense, is nourish his political capital through conflict. The cocktail he’s high on is a mixed drink, containing roughly equal measures of ambition and righteousness. He loves the gun-control showdown because he doesn’t think he can lose politically. According to the rigged rules of the “progressive” statist, this is a safe bet – the house always wins, and they are the house.
The gun control impulse is an exercise in moral righteousness: children are dying, we have to Do Something, and nobody should slow down our noble crusade by asking tough questions about what Something is, or whether government is allowed to do it. The rights of people who oppose this crusade count for little against Something, because protecting those rights involves enforcing “arbitrary” restraints on government power, written centuries ago by old white men in powdered wigs who couldn’t have envisioned weapons more efficient than muskets when they wrote the Second Amendment. (However, they perfectly anticipated television, radio, and the Internet when they wrote the First!)
The advocate of individual liberty might point out that armed citizens Do Something about crime on a regular basis, but this argument is a non-starter with statists, because it is an article of faith that only the government can Do Something. How can anyone doubt it? The actions of individuals don’t get front-page headlines and top-story network news coverage, do they? But massive federal initiatives certainly do! The media landscape only shakes when the titans of Washington walk.
In short, only the government can Do Something, so protecting individual liberty by restraining government power means Doing Nothing, and we must Do Something or children will die. This line of “argument” is by no means limited to gun control. On the contrary, it is the all-purpose universal argument for expanding the government, and contracting the private sector. In fact, it is almost invariably decorated with children sooner or later, depending on the nature of the Something that government must Do.
As for Cruz’ incendiary charge that Obama is exploiting the murder of children, it would be much easier for Obama apologists to refute if a significant percentage of the gun control measures he’s pushing for had some logical connection to the Sandy Hook Elementary horror. When an event is used as leverage to demand action that has nothing to do with it, the event is, by definition, being exploited. The nature of exploitation is not altered by the heartfelt good intentions of the exploiters, and it has no place in a reasoned debate.
Predictions about the electoral fate of Democrats in the Senate are tricky, because if there’s one thing Republicans should learn from the last election, it’s that voters don’t always care about the things they vigorously insist they really care about. There does seem to be a public backlash brewing against gun-control over-reach. If Republican candidates in 2014 are smart, they’ll fold that into a larger narrative about the perils of government by panic. The gun-control debate could be used to illuminate many other undesirable places the urge to Do Something has taken us.