Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama’s ultimate indignity: Bush seen as more competent

bush-obama

Agreement is not enough.  Performance matters more.

That’s why the outlook for Democrats this November looks bleak.  More and more Americans now agree with Democrats on the issues.  But they are increasingly dismayed by President Barack Obama’s inability to get results.

The Gallup poll reports that, ideologically, Americans are moving to the left on both social and economic issues. Though more Americans continue to identify as conservatives than as liberals, the conservative advantage is shrinking.

In 2010, for example, which saw a huge backlash against Obama, self-described economic conservatives outnumbered economic liberals by 36 points. Every year since, the conservative lead has gotten smaller. It’s now 21 points.

fire obamaOn social issues, the conservative lead has virtually disappeared. It was 17 points in 2010. It’s now 4 points.  “This movement is consistent with trends Gallup has seen on specific issues,” the polling organization reports, “most notably Americans’ views toward gay rights and legalizing marijuana.”

If public opinion trends favor Democrats, why are they facing a setback in this year’s midterm elections? Because voters are deeply dissatisfied with Obama’s performance. He hasn’t delivered. When it comes time to vote, performance counts more than agreement.

Let free markets and technology reduce gun violence

Ron Conway, an angel investor in some of the most successful startups of the past decade, from Google to Twitter, was holding a Christmas party in his San Francisco apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge on Dec. 14. One of his guests that evening was former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

What was supposed to be a festive occasion turned solemn as Conway convened a prayer for the families of Newtown, CT and exhorted the leading lights of technology and venture capital gathered in his home to ingeniously help tackle the problem of gun violence.

There may be a lot of problems that deep pockets and tech startup ingenuity can’t help solve, but the epidemic of senseless mass shootings needn’t be one of them.

Only Generation Lockdown can resolve America’s gun debate

On the website of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus there is a statistic worth knowing if you live in Ohio. About 1,100 residents of the Buckeye State lose their lives at the trigger of a firearm every year. That includes homicides, accidental shootings and suicides.

It’s also a number that you’d think would be worth knowing if you represented the great state of Ohio in Congress. Yet until April it was not a figure that rolled off the tongue of Senator Rob Portman. Far more astonishing than Portman’s ignorance of the number of his constituents killed by guns every year are the circumstances in which this gap in his education was filled. Portman didn’t hear it from the hospital, a newspaper or cable news. He learned it from a 13-year-old boy named James Barden.

James had come to Washington with his mother and father and other grieving parents four months after his freckle-faced brother Daniel (who would be eight years old on Friday) was massacred in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with 19 of his classmates and six dedicated educators. These families had come to implore senators to support a bipartisan bill to ensure all gun sales are accompanied by a simple background check.

Debating the Constitution in Newtown

The first sign of their presence was the smell of cigarette smoke. There were about a dozen of them, dressed in black T-shirts with yellow lettering reading “Save Our Constitution.” They were holding flags — mostly Stars and Stripes, but also some Gadsden standards with coiled rattlesnakes, “Don’t Tread on Me” emblazoned in black.

Mixed between the high school marching band, the children and the ponies, these were the Oath Keepers. They had come to Newtown, Connecticut to march in the first Labor Day parade held since 20 children and six educators were massacred with a tactical assault weapon in their classrooms. Like the armed attention-seekers who descended on the local Starbucks a few weeks back, the Oath Keepers wanted to make their presence known.

It’s hard to judge whether they were successful in their quest. After they’d extinguished their smokes and got marching, I lost sight of them. They were well ahead of the Avielle Foundation, the non-profit founded by the scientist parents of Avielle Richman, who was murdered at Sandy Hook, that I was supporting.

Starbucks’ customer appreciation day may backfire

For most companies, the prospect of thousands of customers thronging its stores to celebrate its corporate policies would be regarded as ambrosia from the retail gods. But it’s hard to imagine that Starbucks sees this week’s spontaneous “Customer Appreciation Day” by gun-toting Second Amendment absolutists as quite such a blessing.

The Seattle-based caffeine chain has been the target of gun safety advocates for some time over its refusal to adopt a corporate policy that would ban patrons from carrying loaded guns into its stores. That’s why gun rights groups exhorted their supporters to holster up and pop into their local Starbucks on Friday to order frappuccinos.

Thus far, everyone seems to be acting within their obvious constitutional rights. Starbucks is following applicable state gun laws — including “open carry” regulations – which permit customers to bring weapons into stores. Opponents of the idea of sipping lattes next to folks carrying Bushmaster AR-15′s also have the right to voice their dissent.

Fighting the gun world

Customers view display at a gun shop in Los Angeles, California December 19, 2012. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

In the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Washington Post began a series of editorials calling for an end to unregulated guns. Those editorials continued every day for months.  After a while, the editor gave up, and gun control eventually was forgotten – as it has been over and over again.

Now, almost five months after the killing of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut, riveted the nation, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is talking about trying to resurrect his bill on gun background checks that was defeated in the Senate last month.

The next step on gun control

Politicians know they incur a big political risk if they support gun-control legislation.  Gun-control advocates have to demonstrate that there is also a political risk if they do not support sensible gun legislation.

The only way to do that is to defeat someone who voted against background checks.  Their defeat will become a “teachable moment.”

But who?

Three of the four Democratic senators who voted against background checks on Wednesday are up for re-election next year.  They represent conservative, largely rural states that voted for Mitt Romney last year: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana.

Obama’s political options

Fiscal crisis? What fiscal crisis? The stock market is up, unemployment is down and the deficit is shrinking.

The fiscal crisis is in Washington, and it’s a crisis of Washington’s own devising. All those deadlines! January 1: the fiscal cliff. March 1: sequesters. March 27: a possible government shutdown. Sometime in August:  the debt ceiling, again.

The unending fiscal crisis could take up the entire year. President Barack Obama desperately wants to end it. For one thing, more spending cuts could bring on a recession. For another, an unending fiscal crisis would monopolize the agenda. No time for Congress to take up immigration reform or gun control or the minimum wage or preschool education.

Obama’s Two Choices: Good and Better

President Barack Obama must like the view from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now. Politically speaking, the sky is clear, and the few clouds on the horizon have silver linings.

Because where things now stand with Congress, if he wins – he wins. And if he loses – he wins.

Getting Republicans to bend to his will on any of the banner issues this year – whether immigration reform, gun control or deficit reduction – will help enshrine him as a president of real achievement. If he fails, however, these same issues can be used as bludgeons to pound Republicans as heartless, even racist, knuckle-draggers who only want to service their rich masters.

Seeking consensus on immigration, guns

Two tough issues — immigration reform and gun control. “It won’t be easy,” President Barack Obama said about gun control in December, “but that’s no excuse not to try.”   Tuesday, he said about immigration reform: “The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.”

Which does he stand a better chance of winning?  Answer: immigration. On immigration, Obama has Democrats strongly behind him. Republicans are divided — and freaked out by the issue. On guns, he’s got Republicans strongly against him. Democrats are divided — and freaked out by the issue.

On both issues, the president has the public solidly behind him. That’s his biggest asset. “There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” he said on Dec. 19, five days after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.’’ On Jan. 29, when he went to Las Vegas to speak about immigration reform, he said, “A broad consensus is emerging and … a call for action can be heard coming from all across America.”

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