The Plum Line | Opinion
October 3, 2017 at 10:47 AM
THE MORNING PLUM:
Jimmy Kimmel again bravely ventured into the violent, crumbling neighborhood otherwise known as the world of contemporary American politics on Monday night, delivering a powerful monologue about the horrific massacre in Las Vegas. Kimmel grew tearful and frustrated as he tore into Congress for doing nothing to combat gun violence.
But even as the carnage continues to dominate the headlines, nothing is going to happen in Congress. And if Kimmel is going to enter the political arena a bit more often — as appears to be happening, now that he has weighed in on guns and health care — he might consider telling his viewership more about why this is the case. Kimmel’s frustration and anger with congressional inaction undoubtedly captured the sentiments of millions of Americans. But what really explains why Kimmel is so frustrated and angry?
The gun debate — even more than the health care issue — crystallizes many of the deeper problems with American politics right now. But these problems are mostly structural in nature, which means that no matter how effectively Kimmel mobilizes audience opinion, nothing is likely to change in the near future.
No question, Kimmel said many of the things that needed to be said. He demolished the dumb talking point that now is not the time to debate solutions: “We have 59 innocent people dead, it wasn’t their time, either.” He excoriated the fact that gun violence has now become accepted as routine. He rightly contrasted inaction on guns with our willingness to use government to combat other public safety threats. He even named names, tearing into Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan for offering empty “thoughts and prayers” while doing nothing, because “the NRA has their balls in a money clip.”
But Kimmel nowhere fingered the Republican Party as the obstacle to action on this issue, instead aiming the blame at “congresspeople.” If you are Jimmy Kimmel, and you want more regulation of guns, the Republican Party is your problem. The Democratic Party has long supported and pushed for the very same solutions Kimmel called for last night. The GOP has blocked them.
This is more than a matter of spraying rhetorical bullets at the right target. It goes to the heart of the real reasons — the deeper, structural reasons — for the inaction that is frustrating Kimmel so deeply. After his health care performance helped scuttle the GOP’s push to repeal Obamacare, Kimmel might be forgiven for thinking public mobilization makes a difference. But the gun debate is very different. On health care, the argument was unresolved in the public mind. The health law was still unpopular. GOP lies about how their replacement would offer better coverage for less money might have worked. But the health law edged into positive approval once the GOP plan was exposed as the cruel, regressive scheme it really was. A handful of GOP Senators recoiled.
On guns, the situation is very different. Kimmel cast the problem as one of a failure to mobilize, describing gun regulations as “common sense” (i.e., a no-brainer for the public) and calling on his viewers to pressure their Representatives. That’s fine and good. But the public has already been fired up on this issue multiple times in recent memory. Large majorities already support the sort of gun regulations Kimmel wants, and have repeatedly risen up to say so. The last time this happened was after a gunman massacred twenty children. Congress debated but did nothing.
Kimmel’s explanation for this inaction is the NRA’s money. But, while it’s true that the NRA gives tons of donations to Republicans, the deeper problem is that the NRA has a lot of very mobilized members. It won’t do to point out that many gun owners support gun regulations. The ones who write letters and show up at town halls do not. Republican lawmakers fear the latter, not the former. There are sound structural reasons for that, too. The basic problem is that, no matter what majorities think, the incentives for most GOP lawmakers favor opposing any reforms. When something very bad happens, the incentives call for the more vulnerable of them to act as if they are open to reforms, to pacify dwindling swing voters, while voting No in the end. The gun rights forces control the GOP agenda on this issue, and they oppose any action on ideological grounds — which, by the way, is a position many GOP lawmakers sincerely hold themselves.
These incentives reflect still deeper problems. Polarization in Congress is worse than at any time in memory, and negative partisanship is on the rise. GOP lawmakers risk angering their own voters if they moderate or compromise. Then there’s the “minority rule” problem. Gerrymandered districts and population clustering mean GOP lawmakers have to worry less about mainstream public opinion. And recall: In the Senate, a majority did vote after the Newtown shooting for expanded background checks, but it was filibustered by then-minority Republicans. (This is another way guns are different from health care, on which a Senate majority did carry the day.) If Dems take back the Senate, 60 votes will be needed for gun reform again. The problem is not the NRA’s money. It’s the self-reinforcing interaction between GOP ideological conviction, minority rule, and structural malaise.
It is important that Kimmel is mobilizing people. The best hope for countering these things is for Democrats to win more elections, and getting the base fired up is key to that. It would also be folly to expect Kimmel to turn his show into a political science seminar by discussing these dreary problems. But if there is anyone who might find a way to make them more entertaining and accessible, it’s Kimmel. Maybe he should try.
* GUNMAN HAD ‘NO POLITICAL AFFILIATION’: The Post digs deep into the past of the Las Vegas mass killer Stephen Paddock, finding that he was a high stakes gambler and son of a bank robber who all but certainly acted alone:
“If you told me an asteroid fell into Earth, it would mean the same to me. There’s absolutely no sense, no reason he did this,” his brother Eric Paddock said in an interview outside his home in Orlando. “He’s just a guy who played video poker and took cruises and ate burritos at Taco Bell. There’s no political affiliation that we know of. There’s no religious affiliation that we know of.”
One puzzle is that he was found with 23 guns in his hotel room, and had another 19 stashed at his home.
* SHOOTING TRAINS FOCUS ON DOMESTIC EXTREMISM AGENDA: CNN’s Tal Kopan reminds us that Trump’s proposed budget cut domestic terrorism and extremism prevention by $300 billion and appeared to be retreating from combating them. But now:
A senior DHS official disputed the notion that the administration was retreating from the effort, though, saying a new strategy is forthcoming. “We really intend to elevate and amplify our terrorism prevention efforts in a big way, because the threat environment is serious, we’re taking it seriously and we’re doing a full end-to-end review of what we do on terrorism prevention to make sure that our efforts are effective,” the official told CNN.
The official also says that prevention will not be focused “exclusively on one ideology.” Recall that the administration had previously intended to focus these efforts only on Islamic extremism.
* A FRIGHTENING NEW TURN IN THE MASS SHOOTINGS TREND? Experts fear that Paddock may have used an automatic weapon, the first time one has been used in a mass shooting, but there’s still more:
In addition to Paddock’s choice of weaponry, mass shooting experts were struck by his decision to shoot at the concertgoers from high above … Now, for experts who study these horrifying events, there is concern about what happens next.There have been studies suggesting that contagion plays a crucial role in mass shootings — that one shooting leads to another. Will other shooters go for automatic firepower? Will tall buildings become coveted shooting perches?
Congratulations, America — we continue to outdo ourselves.
* MORE PRIVATE EMAILS IN THE WHITE HOUSE: Politico scoops:
White House officials have begun examining emails associated with a third and previously unreported email account on Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s private domain, according to three people familiar with the matter. … Their use of private email accounts for White House business also raises concerns about the security of potentially sensitive government documents, which have been forwarded to private accounts.
There are ways in which this is not comparable to Hillary Clinton’s situation, but that does not mitigate the absurd hypocrisy this is revealing on the part of the news media.
* GERRYMANDERING GOES BEFORE THE COURT: Today the Supreme Court hears an important case on gerrymandering. The Upshot has a terrific explainer on the plaintiff’s proposed “efficiency gap” standard for declaring a partisan gerrymander, which would set an unacceptable threshold for “wasted votes.” A carefully drawn map wastes enough votes so that the map-drawing party gets a far greater percentage of seats in a state than the percentage of votes would dictate.
As The Upshot concludes: “The efficiency gap is not a perfect measure. But it would probably address many of gerrymandering’s problems, with few downsides.” The question is whether Anthony Kennedy will agree that this standard is workable.
* REPUBLICANS MAY BLOCK TRUMP FROM KILLING IRAN DEAL: Politico quotes multiple congressional Republicans who opposed the Iran nuclear deal under former president Barack Obama saying they may now try to block Trump from killing it. Senator Jeff Flake worries that Iran should not “get out from under the protocols” of the deal. Rep. Ed Royce says that rather than kill it, Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”
Here’s an idea. Trump can refrain from nixing the deal, and can instead simply say that he’s enforcing it in a far tougher manner than weak Obama ever did. Then everybody wins!
* AND PUERTO RICO RESIDENTS ARE FURIOUS WITH TRUMP: Trump recently lashed out at people who have criticized his administration’s Puerto Rico recovery effort, and the Associated Press talks to residents who are furious over it:
“He’s a piece of trash,” Rachel Cruz, a linguist, said as she head home after buying groceries in the capital, San Juan. “He makes a fool out of himself and a fool out of his country.” …Even those happy with the federal aid effort for the U.S. territory’s 3.4 million people said they resented Trump’s tweets about some Puerto Ricans being lazy and ungrateful. “We appreciate all the help that we’ve received, but his comments are not true,” said Nancy Rivera, a private school principal who was out buying bread. “We don’t deserve that.”
You know, after the tremendous job Trump has done on their behalf, you’d think they’d lie down and let him abuse them all he wants. So thankless!