President Obama, in an appearance on April 17 at the Rose Garden, was understandably angry at the spectacle of a group of quailing (excuse the pun) senators who voted down a mild tightening of gun control laws that a majority of Americans -- some say as much as 90 percent -- appeared to favor.
But the president might just as well have railed against our undemocratic, eighteenth-century system of government. From the era when a second legislative chamber was created to hold back the masses, we have a situation whereby Montana, with a population of just over one million has the same number of senators -- two -- as New York, with a population of almost 20 million.
Indeed, Max Baucus -- asked why he voted to kill the measure in the Senate -- replied with just one word: Montana. That's where he's from, and in places like Montana, candidates both in the Senate and House, mostly Republicans, are concerned about being overtaken on the right, in upcoming primary contests, by pro-gun candidates financed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other conservative groups. Whether or not these challenges will materialize and be successful, the perceived threat is such that many incumbents don't want to put any daylight between themselves and the NRA.
The upshot is that gun enthusiasts from what are largely rural and lightly-populated states are able to thwart the will of the American people who want tighter gun control in the wake of school atrocities in Newtown, Conn. and other places.
It is not just a question of gun control but other social and economic issues as well. There is little that can be done to change this "Boondock Nation" that has been bequeathed to us; something as profound as a democratization of the Senate is not going to happen. But at least we can become conscious of the deficiencies in our system of government and cease to regard the American Constitution as a "sacred arch", as the late French historian François Furet used to describe the attitude of Americans toward it.