Reid Pillifant of Capital New York caught up with Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz last night and asked him a few questions about his opposition to the Manchin-Toomey compromise on background checks. The interview perfectly illustrates the vacuity of the “slippery slope” argument so many Republicans have employed as their excuse to avoid engaging in a reality-based way with what the legislation would actually do.

Cruz — who has been known to claim the U.N. global arms trade treaty would lead to “international gun regulation” — offered up a stream of misdirection and distortions about Manchin-Toomey. He said it would restrict the Second Amendment rights of “law abiding citizens,” which is false. He said we should be focused on enforcing current laws rather than expanding background checks, which is a false choice.

But the best part came when Cruz was confronted directly with the inconvenient fact that Manchin-Toomey would explicitly outlaw the creation of a gun registry. When his interviewer pointed this out, Cruz answered:

SEN. CRUZ: It purports to do so. But if it were passed, the next day the argument from the Justice Department, from the Obama administration would be, this legislation is utterly ineffective because we don’t have a registry, and I think a registry would be deeply inconsistent with the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. I think we need to protect the entire Constitution, the entire Bill of Rights. The Obama administration has shown a distressing willingness to disregard the Constitution, whether it’s the Second Amendment or the First Amendment, in intruding and seizing the records of reporters, or whether it is the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment, concerning drone strikes, concerning privacy, concerning I.R.S. politically minded investigations and audits. And I believe all of us, whether Republicans or Democrats, should cherish and protect the Constitution.

The notion that Manchin-Toomey “purports” to do this is interesting, coming from a former lawyer and editor of the Harvard Law Review. In fact, the current background check law does prohibit the creation of a registry. Indeed, according to the ACLU — which conservatives themselves cited as an authority on background check legislation – Manchin-Toomey would  actually strengthen those prohibitions.

As for the suggestion that the Obama administration would turn around tomorrow and say the law can’t be effective without the creation of a registry, this is based on a well-worn claim among conservatives. Before Obama ever unveiled his proposals, a Justice Department official produced a draft analysis which suggested background checks would be more effective with gun registration. But as Glenn Kessler concluded in a detailed look at the matter, that analysis in no way represents anything Obama ever proposed. It certainly has no relevance to Manchin-Toomey.

Indeed, what this former lawyer neglects to tell you is that even if Obama did want to turn right around and create a gun registry, he would have to get Congress to repeal the part of Manchin-Toomey that makes the creation of a registry illegal.

No one doubts that Cruz is a very clever rhetorician. Note how effortlessly he justifies the claim that Manchin-Toomey would create a slippery slope to gun registration by eliding the legal issues involved and sliding right into a broader discussion of Obama’s alleged desire to violate the Constitution wherever possible, which (in Cruz’s telling) essentially ensures that Obama would pursue such a registry.

As it happens, Cruz is right to be concerned about the Justice Department’s seizure of reporter phone records, the weak legal rationale for drone strikes, and the IRS targeting of conservative groups (though note that Cruz deftly slips in the claim that this was “politically minded,” which has not been shown to be the case). But to use serious issues such as these to bolster the completely phony claim that Manchin-Toomey would lead to a gun registry only illustrates how misleading and willfully paranoid the “slippery slope” argument, as applied to the common-sense solution of expanding the already existing background check law, really is.

And yet there’s no denying that in this interview, Cruz pulls this off very deftly. The new senator from Texas is turning out to be a highly skilled, highly effective demagogue, isn’t he?

 

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