February 4, 2013

So it’s settled: President Obama does, in fact, do skeet shooting at Camp David, just as he has claimed.

This controversy is only the latest sign that the right remains very, very good at getting news orgs to follow shiny bouncy balls. To be clear, I don’t see any problem with fact checking the president’s statement, as many others have. That’s what the fact checkers should be doing. Rather, the problem here is one of overkill and misdirection. Much of the reporting on the back and forth over this controversy doesn’t clarify what is perhaps the most important fact about it: The question of whether Obama did or didn’t engage in skeet shooting is utterly, totally, completely irrelevant to any of the actual policy proposals that are being discussed right now.

The “gun rights” brigade has grabbed on to this controversy with the very deliberate goal of using it to distort the true nature of the gun reform debate. For instance, here is how the NRA is treating the story:

“One picture does not erase a lifetime of supporting every gun ban and every gun-control scheme imaginable,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.

The frame that the “gun rights” crew wants is obvious: The White House is using the fact that Obama shot skeet to falsely imply that he respects gun ownership and to obscure his true goal of taking away everyone’s guns. You are either for gun rights or against them; those who want gun law reform are against them, and no PR stunt can change that.

But this is a false choice. In the real world, every one of the proposals on the table is perfectly compatible with the country’s tradition of gun ownership. Universal background checks would not infringe on the rights of the law abiding in any way; neither would the proposals to stiffen penalties for so-called “straw buyers,” who make gun trafficking easier. What about the assault weapons ban? Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chief proponent of the ban, has noted that her legislation exempts more than 2,000 types of guns used for hunting and sporting purposes. And the assault ban is arguably not the most important component in Obama’s package of reforms in any case. The proposals to expand background checks and to crack down on trafficking alone represent roughly two thirds of Obama’s gun proposal.

This entire controversy is unfolding in an alternate universe, one that’s very far away from the one in which the gun reform debate is actually taking place. The “gun rights” brigade’s efforts to gin up a lot of noise around this is only the latest example of what has become a concerted campaign to distort the terms of that debate, because the actual proposals being talked about have broad public support, including among gun owners. Readers and viewers deserve to be given the basics here.

* Senate Dems ready to move on gun reform? The Wall Street Journal is stirring some discussion this morning with this:

Senate Democratic leaders expect a gun bill to move to the Senate floor that includes most of the proposals backed by President Barack Obama, with the notable exception of a ban on military-style, semiautomatic weapons, a top aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said. The bill would likely seek to limit the capacity of ammunition magazines; expand background checks to include sales at gun shows and other private transactions; and require better record keeping to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illnesses.

My understanding of this is a bit different; I’m told that Reid has simply asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to report out a bill, not that he has dictated what should or shouldn’t be in it. However, this is interesting, because it suggests that Dems may ask for votes on separate proposals, such as the hugely popular universal background checks.

* Harry Reid supports background checks: Along the lines of the above, it’s key that the Senate Majority Leader said this over the weekend:

“Everyone acknowledges we should do something with background checks.”

Reid has a good rating from the NRA, so it’s good to hear him not just endorsing the background check proposals, but accurately pointing out that there is a bipartisan consensus emerging behind them.

 * GOP continues to struggle with its makeover: The Journal reports that Eric Cantor is set to give a big speech today in which he is supposedly going to “begin talking about how the federal government can help American families.”

Do tell. As I’ve noted here before, one key reason Republicans were decisively defeated in 2012 is that they were unable to make an affirmative case as to how government can be a positive force in people’s lives. Republicans just don’t have a policy agenda that has a chance at broad appeal, so keep an eye out for whether the specifics of Cantor’s speech do anything to dispel this impression.

* Obama makes case against spending cuts: It’s good to see that in his weekly address, the President started to make the case that onerous spending cuts risk scuttling the recovery, an argument that really needs to be made in the wake of economic contraction driven partly by reductions in defense spending.

This is just a start, however. With the fiscal battles over the government shutdown and sequester, Obama needs to use the State of the Union address to make a much more expansive and clear case about the true relationship between government spending and economic recovery.

* The Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop just won’t go away: Jason Linkins has an epic look at the Paul Krugman-Joe Scarboroug dust up, the unshakable grip deficit mania has on our media elites, and their utter failure to grasp the idea that the best way to deal with the deficit is to address growth and our unemployment crisis.

* No, guns don’t make women safer: The New York Times has an excellent takedown of Gayle Trotter’s dystopian mythologizing about how “scary looking” guns, i.e. assault weapons, are necessary so women can mow down the hordes of attackers forever on the verge of overrunning their homes. Of course, the problem here is that it goes well beyond Trotter: Republicans are allowing this thinking to shape their policy response to an epidemic that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.

* About the new Crossroads GPS effort: Over the weekend it was reported that the Rove-founded Crossroads empire will be raising big money to protect electable GOP Senate candidates from challenges driven by the Tea Party rabble. Steve Kornacki explains why giving the establishment seal of approval to candidates might not do all that much to dissuade insurgent challenges.

* Don’t forget about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Paul Krugman has the goods on a story that’s getting far too little attention: In filibustering Richard Cordray, Obama’s choice to head the consumer protection bureau, and demanding major changes to the agency, Republicans are trying to transform it into something that’s essentially unable to carry out its mission.

How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. [...] Just four years after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees, Senate Republicans are using every means at their disposal, violating all the usual norms of politics in the process, in an attempt to give the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

Krugman notes that Cordray has drawn praise even from the bankers, which I’ve seen elsewhere, too. So: Do the financial institutions even favor what the GOP is up to here? Worth some more reporting, I’d say.

* And Hillary’s running for president, right? The founder of the new Super PAC that’s been set up for a 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign tells ABC News: “I have no doubt she’s gonna run.” I’m tending more and more towards the view that the pull of history will be irresistible.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.