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The politics of leadership and anger

Let's compare and contrast President Obama's outrage at mass shootings with conservatives' outrage at Planned Parenthood.

Kristen Sterner, left, and Carrissa Welding, both students at Umpqua Community College, embrace each other during a candlelight vigil for those killed during a shooting at the college, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, in Roseburg, Ore. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

On Thursday, there was another horrific mass shooting event, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Ore. As my Post colleague Christopher Ingraham writes, in the most depressing sentences I’ve read this year: “That brings the total of mass shootings this year — incidents where 4 or more people are killed or injured by gunfire — to 294. There have been only 274 days this year.”

The hard-working staff at Spoiler Alerts does not write too much about incidents like these, because the staff here writes about politics, and the politics of this issue most closely resemble the “frozen conflicts” that litter the Russian border. Which is to say: there is no agreement on what to do, so the festering situation on the ground remains unsolved. And then people die in occasional bursts of violence.

President Obama has clearly had enough of these events, as his statement Thursday makes clear. The president’s mood on this subject has gone way past weary resignation and shifted into frustrated outrage:

President Obama says he will talk about gun control "on a regular basis" and that nothing could change until politics changed. (Video: Reuters)

The anger and frustration in the president’s voice is not hard to miss. This is clearly an issue that he feels strongly about. Clearly, he would very much like to change the policy status quo.

But it’s also worth noting what the president did not say. He did not:

  • Threaten to veto all appropriation bills unless and until Congress passed gun safety legislation;
  • Refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless and until Congress passed gun safety legislation;
  • Demand the resignations of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid because they have failed to push through gun safety legislation;

No, instead, Obama said the following:

Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I’ve got to have a Congress and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.

Contrast this with some GOP efforts to hold the entire federal government hostage in response to funding for Planned Parenthood. I don’t doubt that anti-abortion conservatives are as appalled that the federal government funds an abortion provider, even if that funding does not actually go towards that task. They clearly feel strongly about the subject. On the other hand, their tactical plan of holding the entire federal government hostage to get their way has contributed to the ouster of House Speaker John Boehner, and will likely lead to more turmoil come December.

The most obvious difference between tea party conservatives and Obama is their divergence on a host of policy issues. But another significant difference is that the president, like Boehner, is a traditional politician who recognizes the limits of what can be accomplished without political support. This president has not been afraid to use his executive branch powers to enact controversial policies, but he also recognizes the hard limits of that approach.

In contrast, tea party conservatives think that compromise equals political surrender. The problem is that their alternative tactics for implementing their agenda accomplish nothing but jeopardizing the functioning of the entire federal government.

The president’s anger at these mass shootings is thoroughly justified. But so is his decision not to link gun control legislation to the funding of the entire federal government. Which is a lesson I wish that his opponents would also remember when they get frustrated that Washington is not listening to them.