Public officials are very selective about when violence and death matter.
Massacres and terrorist incidents cannot be ignored, but the day-to-day toll from gun violence is often swept aside. Politicians who tout themselves as advocates of law and order don’t want to be unmasked as caring even more about their ratings from gun lobbyists.
And opponents of the most moderate gun reforms engage in a shameless game of bait-and-switch. Because measures such as background checks would not stop every murder, they’re declared useless even though they’d still save lives. Then the gun lobby turns around and opposes other measures, such as a ban on high-capacity magazines, which could prevent some of the killings that background checks might not.
The lack of coherence doesn’t bother those who are willing to tolerate all manner of violence to keep the gun business free of inconvenient restraints. Their goal is to exhaust supporters of sane gun laws and get them to give up until the next big tragedy strikes.
Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee has never given up and never given in. One of the earliest members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group spearheaded by New York City’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Tom Menino, he has made curbing urban bloodshed a personal cause.
Every year between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, he organizes a “Cease-Fire Sabbath” that enlists clergy around the city to preach against violence. “The ministers and other clergy can reach people that I can’t,” Barrett said in an interview in his office last week. Here’s a faith-based initiative that everyone can believe in.
Barrett has paid a price for his steadfastness on guns. In his rematch last year against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s recall election (he lost to Walker in 2010), gun groups spent more than $800,000 to defeat him. Such sums are designed to have a chilling effect on other politicians who might take on the gun lobby. “It hasn’t chilled me,” Barrett says with a smile, “but obviously I’m not the governor.”
Since late last year, Barrett has made the case for extending background checks to online and private purchases as well as gun show sales by pulling out a large cardboard blow-up of a request sent through an online gun market on Oct. 20, 2011.
It reads in part: “Looking for a handgun that is $300 obo [or best offer]. … Looking to buy asap. … Prefer full size. Prefer .45, .40. … I constantly check my emails. … Also I’m hoping it has a high mag capacity. … I’m a serious buyer so please email me asap. Have cash now and looking to buy now. I am mobile.”
As The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported, the ad was posted by Radcliffe Haughton days after his wife Zina Haughton “was granted a four-year restraining order against her husband because she said she feared for her life.”
“The couple had a volatile relationship,” the paper explained. “Police had been to their Brown Deer [WI.] home on 20 different occasions. These red flags should not have been ignored, but they were.”
The day after the ad went up, Radcliffe Haughton gunned down Zina and two other women at the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield, WI.
The Journal-Sentinel noted (and Barrett also makes this point) that Radcliffe Haughton “may well have found another way to get a gun. But that doesn’t mean that such legislation would not keep guns out of the hands of others who buy them every year without undergoing a background check.”
The slaughter in Newtown decisively shifted the nation’s discussion on guns, and Barrett says he’s still hopeful that a background check bill will eventually pass. The law is needed, he said, not just because of gruesomely spectacular killings but also to stop “what my police chief calls slow-motion mass murders in the cities around our country.”
But can the politics be overcome? At a recent talk at Georgetown University, former president Bill Clinton spoke of how politicians draw warnings from past political fights even when those lessons have become obsolete. He used the analogy of the cat that gets burned on a hot stove, and will never jump on the stove again, even after the stove has cooled.
As of May 8, according to Slate magazine, there had been at least 3,947 gun deaths since Newtown. The political heat is now coming from those who have lost patience with slow-motion mass murders. Will Congress notice the temperature change?
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 12, 2013
Voters in Madison and Milwaukee have reaffirmed the state’s Election Day registration law, with an overwhelming majority supporting the practice in two advisory referendums on Tuesday’s ballot. Allowing voters to register on Election Day has helped Wisconsin achieve one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country — but some state Republicans have proposed rolling back the state’s highly successful law.
Advocates say the vote on the advisory referendum sends a message to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and legislative leaders that election day registration works well and should be retained. Around 82 percent of voters in Dane County (where Madison is located) supported Election Day registration, and 73 percent of Milwaukee voters backed it.
The Milwaukee Common Council and Dane County Board added the advisory referendums to the April 2 ballot after Governor Walker indicated support for ending election day registration in November 2011, followed by other top Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Students, people of color, and the poor are most likely to register on election day — largely because they are more likely to have moved since the last time they voted — and proposals to end Election Day registration were considered part of the larger GOP push to rig the voting process for partisan gain.
Pew Charitable Trusts recently ranked Wisconsin as one of the highest-performing states in the nation during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, and praised the Dairy State for allowing voters to register at the polls on election day, which has helped Wisconsin achieve the second-highest voter turnout rate in the nation. The other seven states that allow Election Day registration also rank among those with the highest turnout in the country.
In 1975, Wisconsin was one of the first states in the country to allow voters to register on election day, and in recent years others have been catching on: last year, California and Connecticut passed Election Day registration (but the laws have not yet taken effect), and fourteen other states are considering similar proposals this year.
In February, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board estimated that ending Election Day registration could cost $14.5 million. Walker backed off his support for any measure that cost that much, but Speaker Vos questioned the cost estimate.
Tuesday’s referendum votes are non-binding, but voting rights advocates hope the measure will put the nail in the coffin for proposals to end Wisconsin’s Election Day registration.
By: Brendan Fischer, The Center for Media and Democracy, April 3, 2013
Paul Ryan, who famously suggested that the General Motors plant in his hometown closed because of Obama administration policies when it actually closed under President Bush, is now going for an even bigger rewrite of history.
He is claiming that his austerity agenda—at least the part that makes tax cuts for the rich the supreme imperative—remains popular. Indeed, to hear Ryan tell it, those ideas almost prevailed.
In an ABC News interview a week after the election, Ryan was asked whether President Obama has a mandate to call for raising taxes on the rich. “I don’t think so,” said Ryan, who argued that, “This is a very close election.”
Ryan rejects the notion that his ideas lost. Indeed, he still claims he’s promoting “popular ideas.” And he says of the Republican ticket: “It was a well-run campaign. We made this campaign about big ideas and big issues, which is the kind of campaign we wanted to run, so we ran the kind of campaign we wanted to run.”
But Barack Obama also ran on big ideas. On the morning before the election, Obama appeared just a few miles up the road from Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin.
“If we’re serious about the deficit, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. We’ve also got to ask the wealthiest Americans to go back to the tax rates they paid when Bill Clinton was in office,” the Democratic president told a crowd that had just heard Bruce Springsteen sing and speak about the need to create a more equitable America. “And by the way, we can afford it. I haven’t talked to Bruce, but I know he can afford it. I can afford it. Mr. Romney can afford it.”
But Obama went further, in that speech in Madison, and in speeches in Columbus and Des Moines and communities across the country. He called, again and again, for raising taxes on the rich. “Because our budget reflects our values, it’s a reflection of our priorities, you know. And as long as I’m president, I’m not going to kick some poor kids off of Head Start to give me a tax cut,” said the president.
Ryan is claiming in his post-election interviews that: “I don’t think we lost it on those budget issues, especially on Medicare — we clearly didn’t lose it on those issues.”
Yes they did.
In his closing argument, Obama focused—as did other winning Democrats—on “those budget issues.” One of the president’s biggest applause lines was: “I’m not gonna turn Medicare into a voucher just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut.”
Obama and Vice President Biden ran on big ideas, just as Romney and Ryan did.
Ryan and Romney lost Wisconsin and every swing state except North Carolina.
Ryan and Romney lost the Electoral College by an overwhelming 232-206 margin.
Ryan and Romney lost the popular vote by more than 3.4 million votes.
Obama and Biden won a mandate in a battle of ideas where the lines were clearly drawn.
Despite what Paul Ryan says, Obama won a mandate—a bigger mandate, in fact, than Presidents Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Carter in 1976 or Bush in 2000 and 2004.
To say otherwise is to deny what just happened.
Paul Ryan can try if he wants.
But he should remember what happened when he tried to peddle a fantasy about the closing of that Janesville General Motors plant.
Well, Ryan lost his home precinct in Janesville—not just as a vice presidential candidate but as a candidate for reelection to his House seat.
Ryan lost Janesville, as a vice presidential candidate and a congressional candidate.
Ryan lost surrounding Rock County, as a vice presidential and a congressional candidate.
Ryan and Romney lost Wisconsin—by such a resounding margin that Saturday Night Live was mocking the result on the weekend after the election.
When the rejection is so glaring that it becomes a punchline, it’s a stretch to talk about a “close election.”
And it’s absurd to suggest that your ideas are popular.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, November 14, 2012
“A Tale Of Presidential Surrogates”: Bill Clinton Stumps For Obama, While George W. Bush Heads To Cayman Islands
On Thursday, Bill Clinton will be campaigning for President Barack Obama while George W. Bush will be spreading a message that Mitt Romney would rather voters forget, in a stark example of the differing roles that the two former presidents have played in the 2012 campaign.
Clinton will spend Thursday on the campaign trail in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Throughout the 2012 campaign — but especially since giving a universally praised nominating speech on Obama’s behalf at the 2012 Democratic convention — Clinton has been Obama’s most effective surrogate, forcefully endorsing the president’s agenda and gleefully attacking Romney and the Republican Party. Forced off the campaign trail by Hurricane Sandy with just six days until the election, Obama has become more reliant on Clinton than ever. In the past several days, the Obama campaign has dispatched Clinton to Ohio, Iowa, and Minnesota — where the former president blasted Romney for the faulty tax plan at the heart of his economic agenda.
Bush, on the other hand, will spend Thursday in the Cayman Islands, delivering the keynote address at the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit. As Romney struggles to convince voters that he understands their economic struggles, having the previous Republican president reminding them of the questions surrounding Romney’s financial dealings in the Caymans is beyond unhelpful.
Of course, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise; after all, Bush has not helped Romney at all throughout the campaign. From Bush’s tepid endorsement of the Republican nominee — telling reporters “I’m for Mitt Romney” as a set of elevator doors closed on him — to his almost complete absence from the Republican convention and campaign trail, Bush and Romney seem to have come to a mutual understanding: the less mention of the years 2000-2008, the better.
There’s a simple reason that Clinton is seemingly omnipresent in this campaign, while Bush can’t even be found in this country: Clinton is one of the most popular political figures in America, while Bush is one of the most reviled. Romney has steadfastly avoided Bush — and will continue to do so in the campaign’s final days — because if the campaign is framed as a choice between eight more years of Clinton or eight more years of Bush, it would be a landslide.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, October 31, 2012
One week from today, voters across the country will head to the polls and elect a president and a Congress. Literally billions of dollars have been spent so far to influence the outcome, not to mention countless hours of personal sacrifice and effort. Alas, politics is a zero-sum game: there will be no return on investment for the losers. Even if a candidate wins by a single vote, his or her backers can be rewarded with extraordinary power, access and profit, while the very narrow loser gets nothing, and the supporters, less—just red ink on the ledger.
So in this last week of campaigning, all the stops come out. For too many political operatives that have long since discarded notions of professional ethics, the only question about a dirty tactic is: will it work? In July, the answer is likely to be “probably not,” because the trick can be discovered and the candidate branded as dirty, or a cheater.
But now, with so little time left—with no real time for tricks to be exposed nor for narratives about questionable tactics to shape up—dirty moves look pretty appealing. (It also helps that the national press, aside from being overwhelmed with the conclusion of so many important races, is also distracted by a historically catastrophic storm).
And so we’ve seen them. On the top line, this dynamic probably explains the Romney campaign’s decision to run a series of ads in Ohio claiming that, thanks to Obama’s auto bailout, Chrysler is going to move all Jeep production to China. This is not true in any possible interpretation of the facts, and I have to think that, despite his loose relationship with the truth, there’s no way Romney would go this far out on a limb in the summer time. (As John Nichols writes today, “Yes, Romney’s a Liar, but This Is Getting Ridiculous.”) The company itself has blasted this as “a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats,” while assuring panicked workers, and Vice President Biden has aggressively fought back, asking “Have they no shame?” Newspapers editorials across the state are blasting Romney’s lie.
Normally, this is the type of blowback that would really harm a candidate, but the Romney camp’s calculation is clearly that there just isn’t time for that—and meanwhile, many low-information voters can be scared into voting Romney. I’m not sure that’s the right calculation, but one they’ve made: after three days of pushback from the company and pretty much everyone else, Romney responded Tuesday afternoon by releasing a radio version of the ad that’s even more dishonest than the original spot.
But beneath headline-level antics like this, things are getting even dirtier. Scott Keyes at ThinkProgress reported today that the Romney campaign in Wisconsin is training volunteers to explicitly mislead voters:
Documents from a recent Romney poll watcher training obtained by ThinkProgress contain several misleading or untrue claims about the rights of Wisconsin voters… One blatant falsehood occurs on page 5 of the training packet, which informed poll watchers that any “person [who] has been convicted of treason, a felony, or bribery” isn’t eligible to vote. This is not true. Once a Wisconsin voter who has been convicted of a felony completes his or her sentence, that person is once again eligible to vote.
The poll workers are also being given incomplete information as to what can be used as identification to vote in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, voters in Virginia—where both the presidential race and key Senate race are essentially tied—are receiving truly deceptive robocalls about President Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
First, the phone rings and “William Kristol” comes up on caller ID. (Yes, that one). His group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, is paying for the call, which features random remarks from different Obama and Netanyahu speeches spliced together as if the two had a debate—and one in which Obama basically tells Netanyahu to get lost. Ron Kampeas at JTA has the transcript:
DEBATE ‘MODERATOR’: Welcome to the first debate between Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. President, we’ll start with you.
OBAMA: I’ve made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran’s affairs.
“MODERATOR”: Mr. President, thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, your response.
NETANYAHU: The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.
“MODERATOR”: Mr President, your rebuttal.
OBAMA: Obviously there are some differences between us.
ECI: Friends, Americans and Israel cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama. This call was paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel because your vote will make the difference in this election.
I highly doubt Kristol would try this stunt in September. But in one week, there will be earth-shifting news about either the re-election of President Obama or the election of Mitt Romney. Nobody would care about a silly robocall in Virginia, despite the impact it may have had on voters in a critical state.
Look for more things like this in the week ahead—they are a virtual certainty. And if you get a weird robocall, or visit from a misleading activist, jot down the details and contact a friendly reporter. (My information is above, and local news reporters are likely to be interested as well).
By: George Zornick, The Nation, October 30, 2012