The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Gun Control Vote Exposes Clueless MSM

gun

The mainstream media is shocked and bewildered today at how spectacularly each of the President’s gun control proposals flopped in the Senate. After weeks of a full court press by the media and countless speeches by the President, there were more votes in the Senate yesterday to gut gun control than to tighten it; a proposal to ease concealed carry got more support than even the very watered down background check proposal that gun control advocates thought was their best bet.

As is so often the case in American politics, those who produce MSM coverage and those who rely exclusively on it for news were the last to know what was happening. We’ve seen almost nothing but optimistic and encouraging coverage of gun control efforts, ending as usual in painful failure and disillusion. Many gun control advocates and their allies in the MSM are stupified and stunned by the votes.

This was stupidity at work; the MSM mistook its wishes and its dreams for events, and spun itself into a beautiful and comfortable cocoon. This never made sense to us; at Via Meadia we predicted again and again that gun control advocates were riding for a fall. Jacksonian voters see the Second Amendment less as a hunter’s privilege than as a last line of defense against tyrannical government; Jacksonians are disproportionately strong in thinly populated states (like Wyoming) in ways that give them power in the Senate greater than the raw numbers might show. They are also swing voters in many states who can vote for either a conservative Democrat or a Republican; that makes them even more influential. Not many liberals would vote for an otherwise conservative Republican who voted for gun control, but a great many Jacksonians would vote against an otherwise conservative Democrat who voted the ‘wrong way’ on gun control.

Add it up: it takes a supermajority of 60 to get gun control through the Senate. To get that supermajority, gun control proposals in the first place have to be diluted so far that they are unlikely to have much effect on gun violence. The vote becomes symbolic more than substantial. In the second place, to get that supermajority on a symbolic vote, a number of red state Democrats and centrist Republicans must literally risk their careers.

Worse, the GOP controlled House was clearly unwilling to pass serious gun control legislation. Anything that got through the Senate would have to be even further watered down in order to get through the House. The administration no doubt hoped that the vote would be a tough one for blue state Republicans and help whip up the base for 2014, but it’s hard to see a serious person being convinced that this legislative process was going to end up making substantial changes in American gun policy.

A principled senator who truly believed that his or her vote on a gun control law would make a real difference on the ground might choose to stake an entire career on one vote. But if the vote in question were more an act of symbolism and sham that real substance, the equation is very different. Is there really any point in throwing your political career away in order to give a few days’ passing satisfaction to New York Times editorial writers?

In any case, it’s hard to argue that this issue resonated very deeply outside the cocoon. A Gallup poll on Monday found that after weeks of heated MSM coverage only 4 percent of Americans regard gun control as the nation’s most pressing issue. We would not be surprised if many people in that 4 percent opposed gun control. Asking a career politician to risk a political career on a sham that most voters think is of secondary importance is not a smart thing to do in our view, and we are not surprised that the senators in question declined the invitation to a ritual suicide.

The real question is why it is so hard for the MSM to see political reality in cases like this. It should not be a question of political bias; one ought to be able to be pro-gun control without losing the ability to weigh up the facts. There are some on the right who darkly suspect that the pro-gun control MSM deliberately overstated the likelihood that these bills would pass in order to stampede wavering senators into voting the ‘right way.’ But even if that were true, a smarter MSM would have realized how unlikely that strategy was to work, and also to reflect on how much credibility an effort like this would cost.

What seems to have happened is that emotions and the herd instinct ran wild, and that much of the press simply lost its head. It’s understandable; the carnage in Newtown was so horrendous, the suffering of the families so piteous and so moving, and the case for gun control is so widely accepted in MSM circles that one understands the deep impulse to do something.

Still, the press needs to do better; until it does, the MSM will continue to hemorrhage credibility, readers and revenue.

[Gun image courtesy of HelgaLin / Shutterstock.com]

Published on April 18, 2013 12:43 pm
  • Greg ‘n Denver

    Indeed, keep an eye on Colorado and its “red” districts who were fooled by Tim Gill & Pat Stryker’s huge waste of campaign $. The independents will us hire the Dems out.

  • Anthony

    I haven’t given much thought to issue or time to debate but: “last line of defense against tyrannical government.” It is extraordinary issue can generate such a shibboleth – though I read 46 U.S. Senators voted down proposals (so obviously there exist strong contention).

    • Tom

      Why do you think this is a mere shibboleth?

      • Anthony

        Just a word that came to mind as I read piece – in that it seemed appropriate shorthand at time for WRM’s description of Jacksonian 2nd amendment voters. Perhaps, I could have used slogan.

  • Andrew Allison

    What was “shameful” about the Senate charade is, as WRM points out, that it was nothing but empty posturing at a time when the country faces the need for constructive action on the part of its reprehensatives.

  • thrasymachus02

    What liberals understood, but progressives don’t, is you have to give the opposition some opportunity to save face. You have to give them some way to cave in and go along while maintaining some kind of dignity. They may have learned this from GWB, who treated his opponents in his base with all but open contempt.
    This doesn’t look good for the immigration bill either, as while Marco Rubio may be ok with getting ritualistically humiliated if it allows him to hang out the cool kids, the Republican base gets enraged by this.

  • jacoblyles

    The press hopes to change the culture over time by repeatedly running anti-gun pieces and making their position seem more popular than it is. The rise of the left in recent years is due in no small part to the incessant cheerleading of the mainstream media for leftist positions.

    • Jim Luebke

      The good news is, the people most prone to vote “D” now are the ones more prone to peer pressure. The tide could turn in an instant.

  • Corlyss Drinkard

    “the MSM mistook its wishes and its dreams for events,”
    20 odd years ago when I was “training” a friend newly arrived to DC from the hinterlands in how to analyze correctly what happened in DC in order to know what to expect, I told him this was the biggest pitfall for analysts. He is very conservative and thinks things will usually be decided the way he would decide them. On the contrary, I told him. You have to know who the players are, what the bills attempt to do, where the public is, and what the character is of the states and districts from which the legislators come. It’s a big mix and your individual hopes have nothing to do with the outcome unless everything, and I mean everything, aligns with your position. That rarely happens.
    In the gun control case, the MSM thinks if only it didn’t report the instances of guns used to save lives, if only it backs the “right” positions, if only it runs expose after expose of the NRA and the Koch brothers, it will eventually push gun control over the finish line. They never learn. I came to the conclusion some years ago that the holders of political positions that infest the MSM are incapable of learning. They decided in their 20s how things should be, and by God, they were going to keep making it so even if they had to lie constantly, like they do about AGW. As long as they control policy, they don’t have to reconcile their views with reality. They’ll just make the reality they want.

  • ojfl

    But even if that were true, a smarter MSM would have realized how unlikely that strategy was to work, and also to reflect on how much credibility an effort like this would cost.

    Where is the indication the MSM is smart at all, let alone smarter?

  • Anthony

    This is not my issue but sanity compels me to hazard that credible psychologist could have field day examining major subcortical structures of many gun adherents. That being said, on this issue the majority of American public has not been legislatively represented. That is, at minimum 80% of Americans support some form of expanded background checks (honest attempt to address public safety issue). Yet, the 54-46 senate vote reveals unbalance of political equation vis-a-vis hot button issues. See Rural America vs. Sensible Gun Control (Bloomberg View)..

    • Tom

      Fairness compels me to hazard that credible psychologists could have a field day examining major subcortical structures of many gun opponents, as well.
      On a more serious note, it doesn’t help that most of the notable proponents for “sensible” gun control are also known for not seeming to be big fans of freedom anywhere except the womb and bedroom.

    • circleglider

      Hoplophobia.

  • Jim Luebke

    So what does this imply about the gay “marriage” propaganda we’ve been hearing so much of?