I’m a reasonable guy. I’ve tried to be patient all these weeks. But the politicians and media organizations that have been exploiting the woebegone Newtown parents have tested my limits of tolerance.
In the immediate aftermath of the worst public-school mass shooting in U.S. history, there were calls for tighter regulations of firearms and a nationwide conversation on mental health. That was to be expected. A lunatic shooting 20 six-year-olds point-blank in the head should spark a debate about public policy steps we could take to prevent the recurrence of such a horror.
But it is surely a sign of the political times that elected officials who rarely said anything about gun control before the tragedy now shout at the top of their lungs that we must ban this weapon or that ammunition clip. Where have they been all these years? It’s a classic case of what an aide to President Obama once called “leading from behind.”
Rather than taking the initiative to stake out a strong position and persuade others to join the crusade, politicians such as Obama and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy waited until the public was moved by an unspeakable tragedy. Then — and only then — did they swoop into action.
Last week Obama traveled to the University of Hartford, some 50 miles from Newtown, and warned that some lawmakers in Congress are plotting “political stunts” in an effort to thwart a vote on “common-sense” gun control measures. It was enough to drive me to distraction, as Obama repeated one of his most annoying habits. Once again, he asserted that anyone who disagrees with him on policy is simply playing politics, which is precisely what Obama himself was doing in the first place by avoiding the subject of gun control pre-Sandy Hook, even as his hometown of Chicago was descending into a cauldron of gun violence.
Turning victims into lobbyists, Obama used the full weight of the presidency when he loaded 12 Newtowners onto Air Force One and sent them to Washington to plead with Congress to pass his gun legislation. He even appointed Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son Benjamin was killed in Sandy Hook, to sub for him in his weekly presidential radio address.
CBS’ 60 Minutes, long a bastion of responsible and incisive journalism, spent more than half its show interviewing 18 tearful Newtown parents, arrayed stadium-style in front of anchor Scott Pelley. The upshot: the survivors are still grieving intensely and they support tougher gun laws. And we needed the full resources of the Tiffany network to tell us that?
Meanwhile, Murphy appealed to Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox television, not to televise an NRA-sponsored NASCAR race this week. A full four months after the tragedy, Murphy nonetheless deemed the race “inappropriate in the immediate wake of the Newtown massacre.”
Not to be outdone, Blumenthal rightly denounced the NRA last week. Yes, the senators who voted this week to defeat the gun control package and its mandatory background checks were pandering to the gun lobby. And Connecticut has set an example for the rest of the states in enacting bipartisan legislation. But Blumenthal accused the NRA “of essentially fear-mongering to build its membership and its fundraising and also to, in effect, defeat this bill with misconceptions and misrepresentations.”
But a day earlier, the senior senator had sent out an email to supporters asking for donations so that he could continue his fight for stronger gun laws “in the wake of the horror of the December 14, 2012, massacre of 20 beautiful children and six dedicated educators.” Pot, meet kettle.
In contrast, Gov. Dannel Malloy has not only stepped on the toes of the NRA — an unpopular group and an easy target in Connecticut — but many others as well. For the most part, he hasn’t waited for a groundswell in public opinion. He has tried, with varying degrees of success, to get out in front of the issues and use the powers of his office to persuade others to follow him.
From education reform to tackling a horrendous budget shortfall to reforming the state’s archaic liquor laws, Malloy has taken on several powerful special interests. He has made difficult decisions that angered key constituencies. Whatever I may think of Malloy’s policies, I have to acknowledge that he’s a real leader.
Come to think of it, isn’t that what separates the men from the senators?