The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama angry in defeat

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Had a Republican president lashed out as petulantly as President Obama did yesterday after the defeat of the background check amendment, calling his opponents liars and stooges of special interests (“shameful” is a really harsh thing to say about the red-state Dems who jumped ship), the mainstream press would have been all over him. (Out of control! Lost his cool! Unpresidential!) But, because most of the press also was incensed at the defeat of anti-gun legislation, his performance was barely criticized.

The refusal to take on entitlement reform doesn’t earn Democrats the “coward” label from the press. “Cowardly,” for example might apply when Democratic supporters of Israel believe that Chuck Hagel is anti-Israel but vote for him anyway for fear of offending the White House. Those obvious examples of political timidity don’t earn the media’s ire because that cowardice leads to results they like. Refusing to rebuke one’s own constituents to vote for a feel-good measure for the opposition is many things (“survival instinct,” “politics as usual,” etc.), but it hardly is as despicable as the media chorus would have you believe.

It’s rich, really, that the fellow who rammed through Obamacare in the face of public opposition with a load of malarkey (Keep your insurance. Won’t add a dime to the deficit. No taxes on the middle class.) would lash out in this fashion.

For this outburst, Obama was surrounded by the Newtown parents, which was telling. He put his muscle behind background checks, which even anti-gun crusader Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) admits had nothing to do with Newtown. (To those lefties who retort “So what?” the response is, “Then stop hiding behind the Newtown parents.”)

It is hard to escape the conclusion that, as with his nasty reaction to the necessity of extending the Bush tax cuts in 2010 and the results of the election that preceded, nothing so infuriates the president as losing, especially when the loss is a personal rebuke. Make no mistake: That is what this was.

Ron Fournier aptly explained: “The defeat raises questions about Obama’s ability to unify congressional Democrats and to mobilize supporters via his nascent Organizing for Action, a first-of-its-kind political machine controlled by the White House…. Conversely, his rivals may now feel emboldened to block Obama’s entire agenda.”

The president is not solely responsible for the crushing defeat. But he is famously unwilling to build bridges with Congress and foster personal loyalty. His public haranguing does more to unify Republicans than to break dissenters free. These failings came back to haunt him on gun legislation. His stubborn refusal to recognize that it is the intensity of opinion on the gun issue that matters meant that he actually kindled pro-gun forces. Some lawmakers might have agreed with Charles Krauthammer, who chided the president for using Newtown parents as “emotional blackmail” on background checks. This was an example of  something we’ve seen throughout Obama’s presidency: He has more casual supporters than his opponents, but he lights a fire under his most ardent opponents.

It is a shame that the president didn’t deploy the Newtown parents in ways that were germane to the Newtown tragedy and that could have been useful. Ironically, on the day the Manchin-Toomey amendment crashed and burned, the Treatment Advocacy Center sent out an email that read, in part:

Federal gun control legislation has begun making its way through the Senate in the aftermath of Newtown and other recent tragedies, but initiatives addressed at the mental illnesses associated with rampage killings remain to be seen.
“Improving the laws that make treatment possible before tragedies occur needs to be a national priority,” said Doris A. Fuller, Treatment Advocacy Center executive director. “Our mental health system has completely abandoned people with the most serious mental illnesses, their families and communities. Until their needs are addressed, tragedy is predictable.” . . . The Treatment Advocacy Center has proposed three realistic and achievable federal policies that would address the treatment issues at the root of such violence:
1. Foster universal adoption and use of mandated outpatient treatment (“assisted outpatient treatment” or “AOT”) for at-risk individuals by establishing and funding a national AOT demonstration project. AOT has been deemed by the Department of Justice to be an “effective” and “evidence-based” practice for reducing crime and violence. Mental health courts became widespread after a similar federal project in the early 2000s.
2. Promote reform of civil commitment laws and practices with educational programs to train judges, law enforcement and other stakeholders in the effective use of these laws, which exist to safeguard those with the most severe mental illness and the public.
3. Address the catastrophic loss of public psychiatric beds for individuals in psychiatric crisis or with chronic mental illness by repealing the IMD Exclusion, which creates an economic incentive for states to eliminate public psychiatric beds.

Had the president pursued those ends with Newtown families, he might have had a bipartisan victory. Instead, he’s an angry pol whose second term is now on the verge of collapse.