What if Newtown hadn't happened? Would we be seeing this battle royal move out of the wings and take center stage? Almost certainly not. And yet it might be that this is exactly the kind of political fight Obama and the Dems need. Because what it will do -- what it has already done and will continue to do -- is bring the deepest, darkest parts of the Republican soul out of the woodwork. It's Pavlovian -- their most lovingly fantasized bait. And that will be the political gift that keeps on giving.
These nutjobs are already threatening impeachment, secession and armed insurrection. Another few months of this, and the GOP will be lucky to hold onto the House in 2014 -- in spite of a decade's worth of gerrymandering. And you just know the next few months will not simply be a gusher of paranoia porn. There will be incidents. There will be a Ruby Ridge or two. There may even be assassination attempts. In fact, if it were to be announced tomorrow that one had been uncovered that was planned for the Inauguration, would a single person be surprised?
What Obama has done by going strong at gun control here is to make the political calculation to play offense, to drive a wedge issue, rather than avoid it. He's making the bet that Cuomo made with gay marriage -- that the game is about to change, and the winning play is to catch that wave. For a generation we have accepted the omnipotence of the NRA. Taking them on was simply unthinkable politically. And yet here Mr. Compromise is doing just that with flags flying.
Yes, I do believe he was personally affected deeply by Newtown -- you could see it in his statements. He's not a good actor, and he wasn't faking that. He really does love his daughters. (And, btw, how cringe-worthy was the NRA ad linked to above that makes them the focus of anti-Obama rage? The political instincts of these new death-wish (pun intended) crazies are perfect. They can't help saying the most offensive things imaginable.)
Still, time has passed since Newtown, and I would not have bet a couple of weeks ago that he would go to the mat on this. The fact that he is doing so tells me that he is seizing a political opportunity, arguably for the first time, to deliver a fatal blow. He is laying the bait, and they will take it, and they will scare the shit out of the majority of American voters. The GOP will get indelibly linked to James Yeager et al. And yes, they will continue to carry 30 percent of the vote and maybe 40 percent of the counties, but they will drop from a minority-Congressional party to an interest group.
I used to think the GOP would spend a decade or two in the wilderness and then come back. I now wonder whether they are on the way to being the 21st century Whigs.
Update: And speaking of 19th century political analogies, how about 18th century political origins? This history of the 2nd Amendment is fascinating.