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.