Politics

04.19.13

Hillary Was Right: Obama’s Inexperience Sank Gun Deal

She told us so? The debacle on background checks fully exposed the president’s flawed leadership, which his Democratic rival warned voters about back in 2008.

If you ever need a refresher course in just how disconnected Barack Obama is from America’s mainstream culture of guns, consider this scathing indictment:

“You know, Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a matter of constitutional right ... I disagree with Senator Obama’s assertion that people in this country ‘cling to guns’ ... People of all walks of life hunt—and they enjoy doing so because it’s an important part of their life, not because they are bitter.”

Is that Wayne LaPierre unloading on the president? Nope. It’s Hillary Clinton back in 2008 after then-senator Barack Obama’s famous reference to small-town Americans “clinging to guns and religion.” And just in case anyone missed her larger point about Obama, she went on to call the remarks “elitist and divisive.”

Hillary wasn’t my candidate, but after the president’s multiple failures to pass gun legislation capped by his Rose Garden performance, all of Hillary World can be forgiven for exhaling a loud, cathartic “I told you so.”

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President Obama, surrounded by family members of victims of gun violence, makes a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House with Vice President Joe Biden on April 17. Also pictured is former representative Gabby Giffords. (Win McNamee/Getty)

The post-Newtown push for additional gun-control measures managed to expose fully Obama’s flaws that candidate Hillary Clinton had warned about. It wasn’t just that he was hindered, not aided, by his quirky background, which was so removed from the small-town life she and her husband touted. It was his lack of legislative and leadership experience.

As she said in 2008:

“I think that I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. Sen. John McCain has a lifetime of experience that he’d bring to the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.”

Which, of course, is why a lot of people voted for Obama in 2008. He was new, and history shows us that in open-seat presidentials, the least-experienced candidate generally wins. It is very American to bet on the possibility of greatness, however remote, rather than the less-exciting reality of proven performance.

It’s hard to imagine that Hillary—or Bill—Clinton could not have reached some agreement resulting in compromise legislation.

But like all things in life, eventually advantages turn into disadvantages. More than any president in our lifetime, Obama was elected based on rhetoric and rhetorical skills, a talent easy to mock and foolish to undervalue. In the post-Newtown debate, Obama overplayed the rhetoric, and it doomed his chances for success.

The gun-control debate is not a new one, and the voters who care about it are not uneducated on the subject. In many ways, they are like seniors and health care. They have heard the pros and cons of various legislative solutions for decades and are savvy enough to know that all the easy solutions were passed long ago.

It was not lost on many of those paying attention that the provisions of the Manchin-Toomey legislation would have done nothing to prevent the Newtown massacre. The lack of such deprived this very logical president from making a logical case of support based on the Newtown tragedy and instead forced him to push the emotion of Newtown further and further. On a certain ironic level, this placed Obama in the same position as President George W. Bush making the case for the invasion of Iraq based on mushroom clouds rather than on hard data.

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President Obama chastised the U.S. Senate for voting down the Manchin-Toomey compromise on expanded background checks.

It’s hard to imagine that Hillary—or Bill—Clinton could not have reached some agreement resulting in compromise legislation. Doubtless it would not have been everything gun-control advocates desired, but it surely would have been more productive than the Rose Garden scene that writer Pete Wehner aptly compared to King Lear.

If nothing else, strong Second Amendment defenders could have negotiated with Hillary Clinton with reason to believe she honestly respected their views, if not always agreed with them. As Republicans are learning with Hispanic voters, if you send a signal that views on a critical issue are not respected, it is difficult to find common ground on any issue.  

Curiously for such a liberal politician, gun control has always proven a vexing political issue for Barack Obama. When he was a state senator running for Congress against incumbent Bobby Rush in 1999, the congressman’s son was murdered in Chicago, prompting Illinois’s governor to introduce sweeping gun-control legislation. State Senator Obama supported the legislation, but missed the vote on final passage while on Christmas vacation in Hawaii. The result, according to his campaign manager Dan Shomon, was a disaster: “the perception was that Obama doesn’t care about gun safety.”

State Senator Obama went on to lose that race by 30 points. Perhaps, haunted by the race, Obama was determined that no one would ever again believe he doesn’t care about the issue. If so, mission accomplished. As for legislation to reduce gun violence, that’s a job still waiting an effective solution.