Despite this simulacrum of adult bipartisan politics, NRA-fearful senators lived to run away another day from meaningful gun laws
The Senate likes to think of itself as the cooler, more statesman-like representative body. They roll their eyes at the antics of House members, the showmanship that comes with being one of hundreds rather then one of a hundred.
But the vote Thursday to deny gun control opponents the chance to filibuster proposed legislation showed that the Senate isn't any less self-absorbed or any less petty than the House, it just moves slower. That the vote itself was a victory for gun control advocates just shows how low our expectations for meaningful gun control have sunk.
True: 16 Republicans voted to let the bill move forward into debate. Also true: of the 68 total that voted to let the bill move forward, 21 have "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association – ratings that will suffer should the NRA make good on its threat to use today's vote as part of its overall "score".
On the plus side: standing up to the NRA is a good thing. On the down side: many, if not most, of the Republicans who voted to let the bill proceed to debate have already decided to vote against the bill itself as it stands. Some – John McCain, Max Baucus, Tom Coburn – have explicitly telegraphed that intention.
These senators have spent today assuring the NRA and gun advocates that a "yes" vote was not, in fact, in favor of the bill, but rather, as Coburn put it:
"We ought to have this debate. America needs to know where we stand."
This sounds awesome; it sounds like Coburn is arguing for accountability from lawmakers! But it's not like anyone is confused by the intentions of those who voted to filibuster the bill.
I take that back: the NRA isn't confused. If you're new to the issue, however, you might think that Senators Mark Rubio, Mike Lee and Rand Paul were talking about something else entirely when they put out a statement decrying the vote. Its closing paragraph doesn't even mention guns:
"Unfortunately, the effort to push through legislation that no one had read highlights one of the primary reasons we announced our intention to force a 60-vote threshold. We believe the abuse of the process is how the rights of Americans are systematically eroded and we will continue to do everything in our power to prevent it."
The magnitude of the Newtown tragedy should have made it politically untenable to be against gun control. All it's really done is made it politically untenable to sound like you're against gun control.
The presence of Newtown families at the vote makes it all the more difficult to call out today's vote for the miserable shuffle forward that it is – if it's forward movement at all. But their presence also demands that we be honest about what's happened. We cannot let this count as a victory; it's just a continuation of the fight … a rhetorical battle whose cost is counted in real lives: over 3,000 since the Connecticut shootings.
Reporters on Twitter covered the Newtown families' reactions in real time. One asked, "It's a step, right?" On Twitter, NBC's Mike Viquiera asked:
Scenes from a vote: Newtown families emerge from chamber. What is a word that captures a look of both grief and success on a person's face?
— michael viqueira (@mikeviqueira) April 11, 2013
Keep looking in the mirror, America, you will probably get another chance to see it.