The pro-crime lobby may think they've beaten us, but all they really managed to do is make us mad.
For her part, Gabrielle Giffords has spent her time cultivating the image of a happy warrior, a friendly hero overcoming tremendous adversity and senseless tragedy. While the hero part of that persona remains, "happy" doesn't describe her op-ed on the issue in the New York Times:
Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.
I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.
Giffords writes that "if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s." The issue of partisanship does not come up. Democrat, Republican, or Independent, if you sided with the pro-criminal gun lobby, we want your head.
"This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul," she says. "Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list."
President Obama's reaction was just as angry and just as nonpartisan. He said that the gun lobby had "willfully lied" about background checks,that too many senators "failed," and that members of both parties caved to NRA pressure, making the wrong choice. Salon's Alex Seitz-Wald notes that the President deliberately chose to use provocative language: "Even though politicians lie all the time, the word 'lie' is almost never uttered in public discourse in Washington, let alone by the president, underscoring his unusual anger." Personally, I think it's both shameful and a mistake not to call out lies as lies -- it makes it so much easier for liars to get away with it -- so the rejection of softer language strikes me as a breath of fresh air. And, of course, the unaccustomed bluntness is designed to put the charge in headlines.
This tone of righteous anger and accusations of lying really is that deliberate, I think. The soft-on-crimers are now in a position where they have to defend their vote if they want to talk about it. And of course, it invites factcheckers to examine the claims. But there's a tendency in the face of anger to react with anger, to meet passion with passion -- and the person who strikes back in anger lashes out thoughtlessly and clumsily, ensuring that PR mistakes will be made. Heartless comments will be spoken, the families of the massacred will be insulted. You think "legitimate rape" was a misstep? Wait until some gun lobby puppet tells a tearful Sandy Hook parent to stop complaining or accuses a survivor of the Aurora massacre of being a closet communist. Some on the right already felt safe attacking Newtown families; start whacking them in the nose over and over and they'll really start to get stupid.
And seriously, better than 90% of Americans backed the background check bill. That's as close to unanimous as you're ever likely to see. Republicans may be quietly celebrating their win in a cocktail party with NRA lobbyists somewhere, but they'd be wise to ask themselves how many of these sorts of "victories" their party can actually survive. From women's health to immigration to marriage equality, they really need to consider the fact that they can't take the minority position on every issue and become a majority party again. If gun safety advocates don't let the issue go, it highlights how they've once again taken the side opposite the voters.
But the most powerful tool in the toolbox is that righteous anger. Senators who voted to sustain the filibuster shouldn't be asked to explain themselves, they should be made to defend themselves -- and not as legislators, but as human beings. They should be asked, "What the hell is wrong with you?" Patricia Maisch, a hero of the Tuscon shooting rampage that so critically injured Gabrielle Giffords got it right. As soon as it was clear the filibuster had held, she stood up in the Senate gallery and shouted, "Shame on you! Shame on you!" This woman grabbed a magazine away from Jared Loughner in Tuscon in 2011, preventing him from reloading and undoubtedly saving many lives. She showed the same courage yesterday, raining condemnation down on spineless or soulless Senators who put gun sales and profits above protecting American lives. Make no mistake, protecting the giant loopholes in current background check law is about being able to sell guns and ammo to criminals. President Obama is right: anyone who says differently is a liar.
And they should be called liars. To their face.
[photo by M Glasgow]