After Highland Park, a Liberal and a Conservative Talk Guns
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It is unclear to the nation how the July 4 pops in Highland Park, Ill. were anything but routine bottle rockets. Instead, they were bullets that were allegedly poured from a roof onto a crowd of suburban Chicagoans. It is merely the latest installment of how strategists in both parties are confronting the twin—but intersecting—issues of gun violence prevention and a crime surge. The messaging is still being worked out by both parties, with early voting beginning in certain states in 10 weeks.
You will find the following: Matt DoleA veteran hand, he grew up in Vermont as a Democratic-ish family and went on to be an Ohio Republican. He can read the numbers and make difficult triage decisions. He’s consulted on hundreds upon hundreds of different political campaigns. His collection of memorabilia is one of the largest in the Midwest. (Need a “John Boehner of Township Trustee” button or Ohio’s election tally sheet from 1810? Dole’s your guy.)
You can find the link to the right Brad Bauman is one of the progressive movement’s favorite fixers, having served as the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ executive director and as a top aide to lawmakers from across the spectrum. Friends joke with him that he speaks fluently in pragmatic Front Line member, moderate industrialist, and progressive bomb-lobber. Bauman was also forced to deny once again that one of his Ohio presidential candidates used a bodydouble in a parade. It’s a strange business.
Both of them are currently consultants. This interview was edited and reduced to its simplest form.
Elliott: So, that was a July 4 I won’t soon forget. A mass shooting on Independence Day seemed to have shook a lot of folks—at least in the short term. What does this mean for the discussion about guns? Was it just the modest Take measuresAs far as Congress can take us?
Dole: Mass shootings are tragic and the events that occurred were saddening and disconcerting. However, mass shootings are not changing the political landscape of mass shootings. The policy question is simple, but the answer is complex, and I certainly don’t claim to have a solution: how do you maintain public safety while protecting law-abiding citizen’s rights? Democrats are seen, by folks on my side of the aisle, at least, willing—eager, even—to infringe on law-abiding citizens. Republicans, and the courts, aren’t.
Bauman: What can we even say anymore that hasn’t been said about the tragedy of mass shootings that have become a non-stop problem in America? By some accounts there have been over 300 of these shootings this year alone, and we continue to be stuck in a cycle of acts of terror, thoughts and prayers, anger and denial and then… nothing.
I agree with Matt, this is a complicated problem requiring complicated solutions, but the most fundamental and solvable aspect of that problem is my party’s conduct when we are in charge—leading and pushing and delivering reforms that will solve problems and demonstrate to the American people who our party is, what we believe in and our vision for the future. There is only one group of people who are capable of deciding that, and it’s Democratic Party leaders. If we can move past words and into action—on this, on inflation, on student loans, on gas prices, and on passing a law that protects the rights of women to bodily autonomy, then we win.
Dole: Shooting incidents devolve into an infinite loop where Democrats call for gun control measures that can’t pass judicial muster and then call Republicans names for refusing to submit. After scoring their political points it is quiet, and then we begin all over again. If it works, the Congress compromise will have a positive effect. I’m skeptical given the chance for governmental abuse, but hope for the best.
Bauman: I don’t want to take away from Sen. Chris Murphy’s leadership this year in passing the first bipartisan gun control bill in a generation. Everyone is well aware of how hard it can be to get anything through the U.S. Senate. I believe the positive effects that his efforts to negotiate will continue to have an impact on the future.
However, this issue is more than any of these solutions can resolve alone. This is something that the American people are well aware. Now, I’m not interested in pointing fingers at Republican obstructionism anymore. What I’m going to do is double my efforts on a theme that has been recurring with me for a while: Democrats need to be allowed to exert political power, even if they have only slim majority.
Dole: It’s a wonderful discussion that makes me smile about how the party at power needs to make more use of the power that they already have. Of course, with such slim majorities, there are “big tent” issues involved. Can you coalition-build—even inside the party—to get the votes?
This is only tangentially related but it’s interesting to me that the Democrats have seemingly chosen an all-or-nothing approach to their agenda. [Sen. Joe] Manchin signaled that there was an abortion bill that he would have supported, but the Senate chose to die on the sword of a nearly-all-abortions-are-legal. It’s interesting that people talk about a lack of compromise between the parties, but we’re in a world where leadership isn’t even willing to compromise in the caucus to get something. This lens shows that the possible solutions to gun control by the leadership will be far beyond what Republicans and some Democrats support in the Senate, before we get to the obvious obstacle of the courts.
Bauman: Love that point, Matt, but do want to suggest that what you are seeing here isn’t an all-or-nothing approach, It’s a “do-something-real approach.” What do I mean by that? It’s an approach that is seeking to change the dynamic away from where we’ve been since the Clinton years. In the Democratic Party, there has been a dominant view of governance that has been based on getting deals done. This was the predominant paradigm since the 1990s. The belief that bipartisanship is a virtue by itself was the catalyst for this paradigm. Bipartisan incrementalism can only be a virtue when both parties invest in the success of government. If one party’s power rests on its ability to convince the American people that government is hapless and cannot address the problems that people are facing, then bipartisan incrementalism only leads to the passage of bills that are doomed to fail—ultimately so that the “small government” party can continue to win electorally by pointing out the failures of government.
Dole: I guess this is the classic political “chicken-or-the-egg” question. Through a lens of campaign politics, my take is that if congressional leaders aren’t going to have the votes, demanding the show vote that fails—rather than finding/ seeking/ whatever they determine is the best possible result that can achieve an affirmative vote—makes them look obstinate rather than committed to solutions.
Elliott: This has an overlap with crime, a place where the facts—or at least the perception—do back up the Republican talking points. The stats show violent crime is actually down in most places, but that didn’t stop Californians from BootingThe petition tally and the San Francisco DA It seemsLos Angeles to reach critical mass. What is the point of facts when it reaches that level?
Dole: The rise of crime is not a sign that you are privileged. It is sucking all of the oxygen. Republicans might be interested in this issue because of their continued elimination from the traditional Democratic coalition. For example, African Americans are learning that Defunding the Police and anti-police initiatives have had a negative impact on their safety. It was evident that the issue had an effect on the Texas Special Election of Rep. Flores, and it could also play an important role in other races like the Georgia Senate Race.
Bauman: Our world is filled with insecurity. People feel anxious and fearful about many things that are happening now. You know what? I also feel this way. But let’s be angry and anxious over the things that really are out of control, like assaults on our democracy, Russia and China bending the rules of international order, or the broken supply chain, and not be hyperbolic about the things that aren’t like crime. It is important to remember that those topics, such as crime, are being discussed through language and frames that were used over decades to reprimand and terrorize Black and Brown youth.
For every person on Fox screaming about how unsafe our streets have become because they think it will score political points, I wish there was one person talking about how seriously we should be taking the Jan. 6 commission, or what it means when the Supreme Court uses their power to take away a persons’ abortion rights, or when a state legislature gives permission to public citizens to put a bounty on their neighbors’ head for seeking women’s health services, or how white supremacists are unabashedly marching through our streets and running for positions of power that oversee our elections ahead of 2024.
Dole: I wish more people ranked crime as a top priority because I think this sort of response shows why it’s a good issue for Republicans. You’ve thrown out everything but the kitchen sink to change the subject, but voters have excellent BS meters for hyperbole, and they are absolutely angry over the correct things: inflation, gas prices, and crime. These things are making voters mad because they affect the people most, at home as well as in their wallets. Many cities’ homicide rates are expected to surpass the 2021 record. That’s not a gun control issue. It’s a police funding issue. It’s a mayoral leadership issue. It’s a prosecutors-refusing-to-prosecute issue. It’s a judges-letting-criminals-out-without-bond issue. The result isn’t highly motivated Republicans; it’s motivating the electorate to move to the right. San Francisco’s DA was recalled. Meanwhile, the Democrats’ gambit for 2022 is to encourage voters to focus on the one-sided, partisan hatchet job that Is the Jan. 6 reality show? Hey, we’ll take it.
Bauman: Since you didn’t address my point regarding how discussions around crime are traditionally racist, I would like to challenge you. How can you have a conversation with someone like myself about public safety, where someone like yourself acknowledges the racism in arguments, and another like me admits that safety for the home, family, and community is an essential job of government? That’s the sort of conversation that people crave.
Dole: The polling that suggests that crime is a growing top issue for voters shows that scare tactics aren’t necessary. People aren’t getting ginned up by Fox News, they’re looking out their front doors and seeing petty crime, violence, and murder on the rise right in front of them. ABC News reported 12 cities breaking homicide records by 2021. Fox News (sorry), reports that five of these 12 cities are poised to break a record for this year.
It is easy to discuss solutions. Reverse efforts to defund police, give police the training and equipment they need to do their jobs, keep elected officials out of the way and let the police do their job, charge criminals when they commit crimes—and, by the way, charge cops when they commit crimes, too, but let’s stop defining every police use of force as a crime; it’s just not—and reject the terribly unsafe concept that we’re dealing with in Ohio that the safety of the community isn’t a reasonable factor in setting bond.
Elliott: Thank you, gentlemen. It’s been a lively week for this chain.
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