On the first anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, the most important thing we have learned about American politics is that cynics know best.
After Newtown, the idealists were energized. Horrific as it was, the gun control people had a wedge — an event so shocking that Congress might finally be persuaded to stand tall and break the gun lobby’s stranglehold. After all, if the massacre of 20 innocent children and seven adults didn’t spur politicians to put public safety first, nothing would.
It didn’t, and the cynics knew it wouldn’t. The NRA has weathered enough massacres to know that the best strategy is to lie low and make no comment while the wave of revulsion washes across the land. This being America, gun and ammunition sales actually spiked as gun owners worried that their rights might be curtailed. Since arms manufacturers are the lifeblood of the gun lobby, even the brief period when the opposition appeared to seize the momentum worked to their advantage.
There was talk about spending more money to treat mental illness, which is a commendable goal — but it was a distraction. The core problem remained the willful misinterpretation by vested parties of a constitutional amendment originally designed to protect Americans from an overweening government in a well-regulated context.
The gun lobby patiently worked in the shadows. As expected, Congress quailed, because the cold reality is simple: Gun rights advocates tend to be single-issue voters. They often don’t get involved in politics at all, unless they think government is coming after their weapons. They are supremely susceptible to scare tactics, and there are plenty of highly paid shills whose job it is to keep them perpetually terrified.
Those who favor reasonable gun control measures not only lack the sustained fervor of their opponents, they have other political concerns. A pro-gun stance by an otherwise progressive candidate in a hunting state is not necessarily a deal-breaker for moderates and lefties; an anti-gun position certainly is for the other side. In a purple state or a closely fought election, it can make all the difference.
In politics, it’s easy to incite aggrieved parties to attack a threatening initiative. Inaction, on the other hand, doesn’t create committed enemies.
Accordingly, Congress has seen fit to duck and cover after Newtown. Surely, there will be other Newtowns, along with more transient waves of revulsion. And, as though caught in some twisted, repetitive Kabuki play, America will follow its scripted path back to the way things have always been.
The cynics, as usual, know best.