In his hastily called press conference in the wake of the failure of his vaunted gun control push, President Obama’s expression said it all.
It was fury. Pure, barely-controlled fury, and you’re not wrong if you enjoyed watching the interplay of frustration and anger across his normally hypercomposed face.
On the surface it was about the shellacking gun control laws took in the Senate. Make no mistake: while this was a policy loss for Obama, it was also much, much more.
It was the moment the bully gets popped in the nose, and the unexpected sensation of shock and pain leaves him aghast. It was the moment, to use a rather apropos analogy, the mugger finds himself starting down the black void of a .45 barrel in the fist of his intended victim.
It was shock that the glowing, constant press coverage, the lockstep drumbeat on the nation’s editorial pages, the hectoring, lecturing rants from Joe Scarborough and Piers Morgan et al., the Bloomberg TV ads featuring the families of Newtown, the vaunted OFA operation’s push, and all the personal phone calls from President Charm Offensive himself couldn’t move the votes.
And that enraged Obama. His sense that he is uniquely persuasive and that once he “takes it to the people” the argument is over, was directly challenged, and he failed.
The knowledge that even he, suffused in the glow of a landslide reelection, embraced and beloved and fueled by his willingness to carry his human shields from Newtown and Tuscon to every event, couldn’t close the deal on the least-controversial part of gun control was burning in him in that presser and it showed.
Obama is furious he didn’t see the disconnect between his desires and the rest of the country. He’s supposed to be charismatic and smart, and in a hundred Congressional and Senate offices, eyes rolled as he kept pushing a losing hand.
As red-state Democrats have become almost identical to their blue-state companions on every meaningful fiscal and policy issue, gun control is the one fig leaf they hold over themselves to signify to voters, “I’m not like Chuck Schumer! I’m not like Dianne Feinstein! I’m like y’all! Trust me! I’ll never take your guns away!” That wooden moke Joe Manchin is in office because of this ad, and what Mike Bloomberg and Barack Obama never got was that politics is only somewhat national.
He didn’t see that for a Mark Begich or a Heidi Heitkamp to stand for reelection in 2014 or 2016 they don’t need a pat on the head from Obama and a media buy from Mike Bloomberg’s egregious criminal syndicate.
They need to reflect the values and political realities of their home states, not in some academic sense, but when the rubber meets the road in town hall meetings. They haven’t forgotten the disaster of 2010, when the assurances from Washington that Obamacare would be wildly popular and ensure a generation of Democratic political dominance turned to ashes. Their constituents aren’t talking gun control: they’re talking jobs. They finally saw that Obama didn’t understand this, and more importantly, he knows they know.
Obama also hates this because he lost on one of the holy-grail issues of modern nanny-statism: Americans buying things liberals hate. Background checks were the first part of a regulatory and legal regime to increase the friction and trouble and otherness of gun ownership. If only those pesky states and their primitive values hadn’t been in the way…
To Obama and his ilk, the states are an anachronistic inconvenience to be bludgeoned aside with the mighty cudgel of the Commerce Clause. But this time the states pushed back. I suspect they’ll be back for another pass over this target, but this time with a Democratic team wondering if the coach really has it together. The sound of him kicking things in the locker room is still loud in their ears.