History: In early 2013, in the State of the Union address that followed his re-election, the president threw down the gauntlet, telling Congress to get on with the business of governing, asserting “If you don’t act, I will”. Having so said, Obama then waited to see what, if anything, would happen.
As a matter of fact, shortly thereafterafter, senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Machin (D-WV) brought before their colleagues, a bill that sought to close some gun sale loopholes while still protesting the rights of gun owners to remain in possession of their weapon(s). This bipartisan proposal was a “small ball” effort to take a meaningful step forward. Yet, in spite of its built-in limitations, the vote on Toomey – Manchin came up short of the 60 needed to kill off a promised filibuster all but orchestrated by the National Rifle Association (NRA). In the aftermath, Manchin signaled that he thought the bill, in a modified form, might do better. Accordingly, the president again held off on taking unilateral action. Unfortunately, nothing happened.
The Present: Earlier this week, after consultation with Justice Department lawyers, Obama came forth with a carefully and narrowly crafted Executive Order (EO) that will close loopholes that exist in the sale of firearms, in particular at gun shows and on-line. Like Toomey – Manchin, it preserves the Second Amendment rights of existing gun owners. By taking this tack, the president has behaved in a manner that is perfectly consistent with what the vast majority respondents have supported in recent polls.
Predictably, the NRA and conservatives in and out of government, have launched into their usual dyspeptic, suspicious rants about how Obama is “acting like a king again”, has once more exceeded his constitutional authority, and is using this EO as the first step in a nationwide program of gun confiscation. The tears that the president shed at the public announcement of the EO were cynically described as “fake”, and the move to issue the EO, “purely political”.
Politics: Whatever Obama’s motivess, whether intended or not, there is most recently a political side of what is going on here, especially in an election year. Do conservatives simply capitulate and go with the public’s flow, or take up the fight that their grassroots base dearly wants them to have?
The prediction here, is that they will pick the second option. In that regard, we MAY expect the fight to take any number of the following forms: (1) threats in the House to refuse to fund any parts of the EO that need financial support; (2) launch into a pr campaign designed to falsely paint the EO as an infringement on citizens’ Second Amendment rights though it unambiguously is not; (3) challenge the constitutionality of the EO and force the courts to rule on that and/or (4) use the EO as a “wedge issue” that will energize conservative voters and thus help get them to the polls next November, the idea being to elect a Republican president who can then promptly turn around and take the EO off the books.
The immediate foregoing is not an exhaustive list of tactics that conservatives might employ. But if you examine the four cited, it will become apparent that the effort will be made to have it both ways; i.e. to get rid of the EO while having to bear little/none of the responsibility for doing so. Indeed, if they can convince people that they have been done a favor, so much the better.
Conclusion: We won’t hear the end of this matter between now and the coming November election. Obama will not be anyone’s ballot, but his EO will be, along with other critical business like tax reform, income inequality, and national security. If conservatives mount the aforementioned pr campaign to discredit the EO, supporters of what the president has done had better be ready to blunt that attack with telling public counter-punches of their own.
The foregoing said, it behooves us all to pay attention. We are headed towards a very consequential election wherein voter turn-out is going to be critical.