I have heard many left-wingers accuse the president of being too timid, of moving in small, incremental steps on the important issues. It is true, especially when it comes to economic policy, that Obama hasn’t done very much to leave his own unique mark. His bailouts and massive federal spending are just extensions of President George W. Bush’s (R) policies, now coated with a faux-populist sheen. Some progressives also say that Obama was too slow to end the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, for example, and that the Affordable Care Act (‘ObamaCare’) should have been a full-fledged national single-payer medical system.
This latter case is especially interesting, because I—and probably many others—would say that ObamaCare became a political nightmare for the president and the Democratic Party not because it under-reached, but because it overreached.
There was, after all, a broad bipartisan consensus that we needed to make changes to our health care system. Imagine a smaller-scale bill to limit restrictions on preexisting conditions, eliminate lifetime care limits, increase insurance competition, limit frivolous lawsuits, and increase availability of health care for the poor. It would have passed Congress in a landslide, and would have enjoyed wide public support. ObamaCare did include some of these things, but it tied them to new, onerous regulations, an unconstitutional mandate, and many other questionable and counter-productive provisions (which have already drastically increased health care costs for those prudent Americans who had insurance before the new laws). In other words, the Democrats went too far, which ensured no Republican support and a sustaining public opposition.
Yesterday, Obama and the Democrats were handed a stinging defeat on a suite of ‘gun control’ proposals. In an emotional speech, the president claimed that the Senate defeated the bills because they had fallen for ‘lies’ from conservative politicians and the ephemeral ‘gun lobby’ (by which he means millions of individual Americans, like myself, who choose to support groups like the National Rifle Association). Nonsense. President Obama is right when he points out that there is broad public support for improving our background check system, but there is little support for ‘guns that look like assault weapons’ bans, or for magazine limits that needlessly reduce citizens’ abilities to defend themselves. His own overreach doomed these bills.
If the president had proposed just the background checks and other innocuous and widely-acceptable gun policies, it would have passed in a landslide and handed Obama a big political win. But instead, he and the Democrats threw in a bunch of anti-liberty and ineffective nonsense and then tied them all together as a rhetorical package. Even though the nonsense was broken off into separate bills, the ‘optics’ made it politically untenable for Republicans or ‘red-state’ Democrats to support any of them. Any vote for any Obama-supported gun bill would be branded as a vote for Obama’s radical anti-gun agenda.
A smaller, more-targeted approach would have made this an easy win for the president, but he and his party squandered the opportunity by bringing ‘guns that look like assault weapons’ bans and magazine limits into the discussion. Responsible gun owners like myself want, just as much as anybody else, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and madmen. We could have been Obama’s strongest allies on a better background check regime, but he chose instead to threaten to limit our defensive capabilities and to punish us for the actions of others. Supporters of the Bill of Rights don’t like that sort of thing, so we walked away from the table . . . and so did the votes that Obama needed in the Senate.
Obama is a victim of his own misguided political strategy; he should stop pointing fingers at everybody else.