Monday, December 9, 2013

Gun Control Didn't Ruin Obama's Second Term

Alex Seitz-Wald test-drives what could easily become a new liberal fantasy:
The Connecticut massacre set in motion a cascade of events that led the White House to burn through its only real window to accomplish its goals. The month before the shooting, Obama had won a convincing reelection and a modest popular mandate. One major liberal wish-list entry, immigration reform, seemed not only within reach but almost inevitable.
Instead, not only in this story did Obama's gun control initiative sink immigration reform, but it derailed, at least so far, his entire second term.

C'mon. Let's see...this argument depends on a bunch of stuff: To begin with: that there's such a thing as a mandate (and that Obama had one on immigration), and that "The first few months of any president's term, closest to their electoral win and furthest from the next congressional midterm, are usually the most fruitful." The latter holds for first terms, but as far as I know there's no similar evidence on second terms, and certainly not second terms which also yield continued divided government.

For that matter, the list of reelections with continued divided government is a short one -- in the last hundred years, only 1956, 1972, 1984, and 1996 fit that category before 2012, and of those 1972 wasn't much of a test. I don't think it supports Seitz-Wald's point, either. Just looking at wikipedia...the 99th Congress didn't pass any major bills until December 1985, but passed several, including tax reform, in 1986. Tax reform is as good a comp as any. Reagan sent up his proposal in May 1985; Ways and Means marked up a bill in September through December, 1985 and it passed the House in the same month; Senate Finance finished their markup in May, 1986; the Senate passed it at the end of June; and then after a formal conference in July and August, both chambers passed the bill in September, 1986.

Ike's 85th Congress did pass three major laws in 1955, but several more in 1956. As for Clinton, not too much happened in the 105th (although unlike in Ike's case, the second Congress of Clinton's second term was more productive.

What I think all this says is: the "almost inevitable" was an illusion. Presidents re-elected with continued divided government don't have a Hundred Days, and they basically don't pass partisan initiatives.

Or, to put it another way: whether immigration reform passed was always going to be about what mainstream House conservatives wanted, and they really don't care very much whether Barack Obama's approval rating is at its honeymoon peak of around 51%, or if it's fallen to around 48% (post-gun bill), 46% (after the Senate passed immigration), or 41% (now). Now, if Obama was at 70% that might scare a few moderates, but that wasn't going to happen in winter and spring 2013.

Obama's second term legislative agenda was derailed on election night 2012 when Republicans retained the House. After that, it's just been a question of where to find a few productive compromises that work for both parties.

More broadly, it's just not true that Congress, or even one chamber of Congress, can only do one thing at a time. Even when the bills are going to go through the same committees, it's actually perfectly possible for two or more bills to advance through the process together. Sure, small delays are possible if two bills reach the exact same stage at the exact same time, but usually that's not the case. The more likely explanation for the delay in the immigration bill -- just as with the ACA in 2009 -- is that it takes time for Congress to work its way through complex, contentious bills.

Pass it along: gun safety probably had no effect at all on the rest of Barack Obama's second term.


  1. Jonathan, I disagree - to a point.

    The idea that gun control ruined Obama's second-term (to date) is absurd, but I think one can make a reasonable case that immigration reform was within reach in December and January and that had Obama focused on that he could have gotten the GOP to acquiesce when it was at its lowest point*. Remember, there was a window when immigration reform seemed to go from verboten to "accepted" among mainstream conservatives and as you like to say the party-aligned media.

    I remember when Sean Hannity came out after the election and basically said "Yeah I changed my mind."

    Maybe it's wishful thinking (I actually support immigration reform so this is an area where I would have liked Obama to actually succeed!) but I think one can make that case at least.

    *The contrary is that the House GOP has proven remarkably ungovernable this year, regardless of how their own or Obama's standing has been. Would the hard-line faction have gone along in January? No, but Cantor and Boehner may have been willing to take the hit and let it go if the focus was on that.

    1. The prominence of media pundits doesn't necessarily imply influence. Hannity isn't the Pope of the GOP, and neither is Limbaugh.

    2. No, but I do think you underestimate their influence over a segment of the Republican base that tends to overlap with those constantly screaming for purity and agitating for tossing incumbents in primaries.

      If they aren't being stirred up by people telling them every night that so and so is a traitor and RINO, they are probably less likely to want to toss said RINO and said RINO is going to feel more comfortable voting for something he or she feels is correct.

  2. "Pass it along: gun safety probably had no effect at all on the rest of Barack Obama's second term."

    It kind of creeps me out that Democrats are trying to sell gun control as "gun safety." Anyone who thinks that they are "safer" with a ten round magazine is not someone I want next to me at the range.

    1. Anyone who thinks that they are "safer" with a larger-than-ten round magazine is not someone I want next to me, period. In fact, just leave your gun at home where you'll (probably) only hurt yourself and your loved ones with it, OK?

    2. Anonymous, the most common police sidearms hold 15 rounds or more. So good luck banning those "high capacity" magazines.

    3. I'm not that fond of all cops having guns, but it's pretty indisputable that giving the state a monopoly on violence has been helpful to human flourishing.

    4. Jacob, self defense is a lawful exception to the state's monopoly on violence, even in countries that don't allow people to carry firearms.

      Since you're worried about police officers with firearms, it might interest you to know that they are roughly three times more likely to commit homicide than are concealed carry permit holders.

      The homicide rate among people with concealed carry permits is comparable to the rates found in western European countries.

      From the beginning of concealed carry permitting in Florida in 1987 through 2010 1,825,143 permits have been issued and only 168 have been revoked for _any_ crime involving the use of a firearm.

  3. What I don't get is why this would become a liberal fantasy. It makes more sense as a conservative, or possibly a centrist fantasy: Obama shot himself in the foot by trying to ram his East Coast liberal gun grab down our throats. If he had only governed from the center like Reagan, Clinton, and Bush, Congress would respect him enough to work with him on solving our problems.

    It's counterproductive as a liberal myth, if the lesson to be drawn is don't try to enact liberal policies.

    1. It's very similar to the myth that attempts at bipartisanship in 2009 pushed back the ACA for months, and otherwise undermined its chances. Liberals -- actually, both sides -- love "we were betrayed by inept strategists," and this is even better: "we were betrayed by bad luck, which forced our politicians to follow self-destructive strategies."

      I think the appeal is that it prevents partisans from having to confront the possibility that their policies actually are not all that popular. Partisans much prefer to believe that the large middle support them, and only a fringe of nut jobs really oppose them.

      (The actual truth is that the broad middle probably don't care much either way! But that's not so comforting, either).

  4. For those who recall that there seemed to be a window in which an immigration bill might be passed...please recall that at least as the media was concerned, in the months after the Conn. massacre, there seemed to be a window in which at least some gun violence limiting legislation might be passed.

    Let's not forget the reality, that children were slaughtered in their school by a gunman who could not have killed so many so quickly with sane gun restrictions. No President with a conscience could have done less than President Obama did then.


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