Novak: Can one bitterly cling to an individual right?
posted at 10:10 am on June 30, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
Robert Novak attempts to deconstruct Barack Obama’s beliefs on gun rights and the DC gun ban, and finds it difficult to do. It’s not that he doesn’t have any evidence, but that the evidence is contradictory, as Obama has shifted around and temporized enough to argue almost any position by now. And if he wants to make inroads among Hillary Clinton Democrats, let alone independents and moderate Republicans, he’ll need all of those positions open to him:
Such relief is typified by a vigorous supporter of Obama who advised Al Gore in his 2000 presidential campaign. Believing that Gore’s gun control advocacy lost him West Virginia and the presidency, this prominent Democrat told me: “I don’t want that to happen with Obama — to be defeated on an issue that is not important to us and is not a political winner for us.” He would not be quoted by name because he did not want abuse heaped on him by gun control activists.
This political reality explains the minuet on the D.C. gun issue that Obama has danced all year. Liberal Democrats who publicly deride the National Rifle Association privately fear the NRA as the most potent conservative interest group. Many white men with NRA decals on their vehicles are labor union members whose votes Obama needs in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. That is why Obama did not share the outrage of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, an Obama supporter, over the Supreme Court’s decision.
What may be Obama’s authentic position on gun rights was revealed in early April when he said at a closed-door Silicon Valley fundraiser that “bitter” small-town residents “cling” to the Bible and the Second Amendment. That ran against his public assertion, as a former professor of constitutional law, that the Constitution guarantees rights for individual gun owners, not just collective rights for state militias. But his legal opinion forced Obama into a political corner.
Novak raises an interesting point. Take a look at Obama’s remarks in full context to that Billionaires Row fundraiser in April and get a glimpse of his real attitude towards gun ownership:
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Look at the equivalences drawn in this passage. Obama equates gun ownership with xenophobia, anti-immigrant hatred, and bitterness. (He also oddly equated it to “anti-trade sentiment” at a time when Obama himself offered “overheated” populist anti-trade ranting.) Unless Obama cheers xenophobia and hatred, clearly he thinks of gun ownership in very negative terms, something he can end with economic progress through federal intervention.
Now, of course, he says that he supports an individual right to gun ownership and that the DC gun ban “went too far”. That’s not entirely exclusive to his remarks in San Francisco, but it doesn’t make him a defender of gun rights, either.
Now, one might think that of all issues in this election, we could expect clarity from Obama on the Constitutional law issue of gun ownership. As Novak writes, it’s actually been the one issue Obama has tried to avoid. The Constitutional law scholar and lecturer tried saying that he didn’t have enough information on the case and “ha[d] not studied the briefs” — even though this was one of the biggest Constitutional law cases in decades. As a candidate for the Presidency, Obama had to understand the importance of the case.
Why didn’t he make it his business to understand the issues? Because being a cipher was more politically expedient. Obama can’t come out and say what he thinks to a bigger crowd than a small group of Frisco hard-Left elites because it would lose him the election. And if gun owners begin to consider what kind of justices Obama would nominate to the federal bench, they may realize that Heller could eventually get reversed by a later court more interested in imposing policy than respecting the rights to which Obama believes Americans bitterly cling at the moment.